DOD Contractors and the Unasked Who, What, Where, When And Why Questions

You may recall that the basic reporter questions are who, what, where, when, and why. They also seem to apply elsewhere. Or not. When the DOD hires private contractors, it seems to make no effort to answer these basic questions.


In a new study, one of many on this issue, GAO concludes that the DOD fails in asking the basic questions. Indeed, its policy seems to be contract first and never ask any questions – now or later. Here are GAO’s summary of conclusions.

DOD lacks critical departmentwide information to ensure its acquisition workforce is sufficient to meet its national security mission.

First, in its acquisition workforce assessments, DOD does not collect or track information on contractor personnel, despite their being a key segment of the total acquisition workforce. DOD also lacks information on why contractor personnel are used, which limits its ability to determine whether decisions to use contractors to augment the in-house acquisition workforce are appropriate.

GAO found that program office decisions to use contractor personnel are often driven by factors such as quicker hiring time frames and civilian staffing limits, rather than by the skills needed or the nature or criticality of the work.

Second, DOD’s lack of key pieces of information limits its ability to determine gaps in the acquisition workforce it needs to meet current and future missions. For example, DOD lacks information on the use and skill sets of contractor personnel, and lacks complete information on the skill sets of its in-house personnel.

Omitting data on contractor personnel and needed skills from DOD’s workforce assessments not only skews analyses of workforce gaps, but also limits DOD’s ability to make informed workforce allocation decisions and determine whether the total acquisition workforce – in-house and contractor personnel – is sufficient to accomplish its mission.

The study does give the DOD credit for improving what were its past poor practices, practices that, in my view, were essentially no more than a money pipe from the Treasury to contractor pockets – no real performance required.

One of the more interesting parts of the report is GAO’s overview of the practices of . . . military contractors, like Lockheed Martin, when it comes to their contracting out work. They say they don’t cavalierly contract out work.

Wow!

Where would they be if the DOD heeded their example?

Here is GAO’s description.

Finally, the companies we reviewed take a strategic approach to determining when to use contractor support. Officials from Deloitte, General Electric, and Rolls Royce said they generally use contractors to facilitate flexibility and meet peak work demands without hiring additional, permanent, full-time employees.

Some of the companies also place limits on their use of contractor employees. General Electric, for example, uses contractor personnel for temporary support and generally limits their use for a given operation to 1 year in order to prevent the use of temporary personnel to fill ongoing or permanent roles.

Additionally, General Electric and Lockheed Martin limit the use of contractor personnel to noncore functions. An official from General Electric said that it rarely outsources essential, sophisticated, or strategic functions, or large components of its business. Likewise, Lockheed Martin does not outsource capabilities that are seen as discriminators that set the company apart from its market competitors.

Deloitte, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft also maintain and analyze data on their contractor employees in order to mitigate risks, ensure compliance with in-house regulations and security requirements, or to ensure that reliance on contractor support creates value for the company.

An official at Deloitte noted, for example, that if work involving contractor support continues for an extended period, the business unit might be advised to request additional full-time employee positions in its next planning cycle or streamline its process to eliminate the need for contractor support. At Rolls Royce, an official told us that one unit uses an

GAO’ summary recommendations are that the DOD:

(1) identify gaps in their current workforces by assessing the overall competencies needed to achieve business objectives;

(2) establish mechanisms to track and evaluate the effectiveness of their initiatives to close these gaps;

(3) take a strategic approach in deciding when to use contractor personnel to supplement the workforce, such as limiting the use of contractor personnel to performing noncore-business functions and meeting surges in work demands; and

(4) track and analyze data on contractor personnel. These practices could provide insights to DOD as it moves forward with its acquisition workforce initiatives.

It’s more detailed recommendations are:

To better ensure that DOD’s acquisition workforce is the right size with the right skills and that the department is making the best use of its resources, we recommend that the Secretary of Defense take the following four actions:

• Collect and track data on contractor personnel who supplement the acquisition workforce — including their functions performed, skill sets, and length of service—and conduct analyses using these data to inform acquisition workforce decisions regarding the appropriate number and mix of civilian, military, and contractor personnel the department needs.

• Identify and update on an ongoing basis the number and skill sets of the total acquisition workforce — including civilian, military, and contractor personnel — that the department needs to fulfill its mission. DOD should use this information to better inform its resource allocation decisions.

• Review and revise the criteria and guidance for using contractor personnel to clarify under what circumstances and the extent to which it is appropriate to use contractor personnel to perform acquisitionrelated functions.

• Develop a tracking mechanism to determine whether the guidance has been appropriately implemented across the department. The tracking mechanism should collect information on the reasons contractor personnel are being used, such as whether they were used because of civilian staffing limits, civilian hiring time frames, a lack of in-house expertise, budgetary provisions, cost, or other reasons.

Government Accountability Office, Department of Defense: Additional Actions and Data Are Needed to Effectively Manage and Oversee DOD’s Acquisition Workforce GAO-09-342, March 25, 2009

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