Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can You Cut the Federal Workforce and Contractors?

Stan Collender says that if we cut the federal workforce and contractors that support them then some work is gonna have to be left undone. Mr. Collender has made this point a couple of times before. I think Stan Collender typically has very interesting and informative things to say about public policy but this is daft. I work in the government and on my floor alone you could send 25% of the people home (contractor and fed alike) without any loss in productivity. I am in my 20s and every where I turn I bump into somebody who is a GS-14 or GS-15 who has no real responsibility and is constantly figuring out ways to make themselves scarce. You don't lose anything by canning someone that isn't doing anything. And as it is virtually impossible to fire someone in the federal government (in my five years in the government the only thing someone that is not SES has been fired for is watching Porn). In theory contractors are supposed to serve as a workaround for managers but it usually doesn't work out that way. If you are an ineffective manager and you decide to augment your staff through contract because your employees are shirking what often happens is the contractors start to act like the feds. And because you have not disciplined your employees, because you are averse to confrontation or whatever the case may be, you don't ride your contractors. As such, you find lots of scenarios where we are spending $200k for someone to GS-7 Admin Assistant or Program Assistant type work just so we have the option of canning them but fail to exercise this option (a dear one) when appropriate. This is why you need to fire both feds and contractors. If you want to achieve greater productivity in the federal workforce there are two things that I believe are necessary:
1. More accountability, less job security (sometimes people should be fired, it is shameful how much deadweight taxpayers are asked to bear)
2. Higher Salaries at the Senior Management Level. I believe government is a good place to start salary wise but as you move up the career ladder it tops out too quickly. As a GS-15 or SES you can have a tremendous amount of responsibility yet your salary (starting $125k) isn't really competitive. Once you get to that level the traditional benefits of public sector work (a less hectic schedule/or more family friendly schedule) disappear but are not mitigated by a competitive salary. The only saving grace is that you don't have to do the sales work and proposals that you would have to do with a consulting firm. But you will end up on the hill, at trade associations, getting screamed at by stakeholders, etc.

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