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DHS Looks at In-Sourcing, Will Other Agencies Follow?

The issue of in-sourcing, bringing “inherently governmental functions” back inside the government, has become more prevalent during the Obama Administration’s tenure.

On Tuesday of last week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and ranking member Susan Collins sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano pronouncing their astonishment at the ratio of contractors to government employees working at DHS.

According to a DHS estimate submitted to the Senate Committee, currently over 200,000 contractors work for DHS, which is larger than the estimated 188,000 federal employees working for the department.

In their letter, Lieberman and Collins said they “have long been concerned about the extensive reliance of the Department of Homeland Security on contractors to carry out the Department’s critical missions.”

Furthermore, the letter said that the number of contractors working with DHS presently “raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors.

The Senators claim that the current ration of federal employees to contractors is “unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable.”

Additionally, the letter highlighted instances in DHS’s FY2011 budget requests that highlighted savings by converting contractor positions into federal appointments.

“While the fundamental question in deciding whether a federal employee should perform a task, or whether the task may appropriately be assigned to a contractor, should not simply be which option is cheapest but rather whether or not the government’s interests are best served by having the work performed by federal employees, nonetheless it is notable that the shift to a more appropriate employee-to-contractor ratio may well also save the Department and the taxpayers money,” the letter said.

DHS is currently undergoing a review process of the workforce in an effort to determine the correct balance between contractor and federal positions.

Clark Stevens, a DHS spokesperson, told CNN that “Secretary Napolitano has been strongly committed to decreasing the department’s reliance on contractors and strengthening the federal work force.”

“Over the past year, we have been actively converting contractor positions to government positions and will continue to build on these efforts at an even more aggressive pace this year,” he said. “We are working across the department to identify and make additional conversions as quickly as possible while sustaining the work force required to carry out our critical mission.”

As DHS is increasingly taking a microscope to its contractor community, what agencies might be next? While most government agencies aren’t operating on a similar ratio to DHS, contractors still make up a significant, and vital, proportion of their operational capabilities.

In the spring of 2009, DoD announced plans to cut back on the number of contractors it used, targeting a decrease from almost 40 percent to 25 percent of the overall DoD workforce being occupied by contractors.

Clearly, agencies are receiving pressure to in-source jobs and cut their contracting staff. However, in the rush to in-source, agencies and law makers would do well to remember that contractors provide invaluable services.

As Sen. Lieberman and Collins wrote in their letter, “When appropriately used, contractors can bring a variety of needed assets and skills to federal agencies, ranging from cutting-edge technologies to specialized expertise.”

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