Contracting out may explain downsizing, scholar says

letters@govexec.com

Thousands of federal jobs disappeared during the federal government's five-year downsizing frenzy, but many of them may have simply reappeared on government contractors' payrolls, a leading public administration scholar said Thursday.

Speaking with a group of journalists about the Clinton Administration's reinventing government initiative, Donald F. Kettl, director of the Robert M. La Follette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Public Management, said the government off-loaded many lower-paying service jobs, like janitors and cafeteria help, as a way to cut costs. But the government has no idea how many contractor employees are subsequently paid out of Uncle Sam's pocket, Kettl said.

"Question: How many contractors work for the federal government? Answer: Nobody knows," Kettl said, adding that additional federal jobs, including clerical and secretarial positions, were probably replaced by new technologies, most notably the personal computer.

According to the President's fiscal 1999 budget proposal, the federal civilian workforce will be downsized by 331,000 positions from 1993 to 1999. More recent predictions from Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government put the number cut at 350,000.

A big problem, Kettl said, is that the federal government took a haphazard approach to downsizing, selecting target numbers and then trying to hit those numbers without thinking about downsizing strategically.

"The government never strategically worried about where the cuts should come," Kettl said, so now it "doesn't have the right people at the right time with the right skills to manage programs."

As an example of the problem, Kettl pointed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where a downsizing program will cut the agency's workforce by 45 percent from 1993 to 2002, from 13,600 to 7,500 employees. The General Accounting Office and HUD's inspector general have criticized the department's downsizing program for lacking a comprehensive review of what positions need to still be filled at the department after the downsizing dust settles.

"Will HUD be capable of doing its job?" Kettl asked.

Kettl said he has developed a law of public administration that the government's downsizing effort demonstrates: "The public sector adopts reforms at precisely the time the private sector discovers they don't work."

Vice President Gore has changed his reinvention strategy, since he and the President have already claimed that "the era of big government is over." But while the National Partnership for Reinventing Government is focusing on what Gore calls "getting results Americans care about," downsizing continues in many pockets of the government, particularly at HUD and throughout the Defense Department.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.