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 G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

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