The Blended Workforce

When government and contractors work side by side, the public's interest comes first.

In 1961, as government's reliance on contractors grew, President Eisenhower cautioned against the concentration of power in the hands of "the military-industrial complex." The warning against blending government and private interests remains valid. Federal workers frequently are co-located with contractor personnel in the same government offices, virtually indistinguishable, and often doing the same or similar work.

The emergence of this blended workforce is the result of choice and necessity, outsourcing and privatization policy, and ad hoc acquisition decision-making. Because of efforts to downsize the federal workforce without similarly reducing its functions, a greater reliance on the private sector became inevitable.

Nowhere are the potential problems more evident than in acquisition, where the number of federal workers has declined by nearly 50 percent since the mid-1990s and the workload has increased in dollar value and complexity. Recent contracting problems could be due in part to scarce acquisition officials and oversight.

Government must develop an experienced, skilled and balanced workforce in order to improve acquisition practices and integrity. In a recent study, "Strategic Plan, 2007-2012" (GAO-07-1SP), the Government Accountability Office observed: "Greater reliance on third parties . . . calls for an acquisition process based on realistic and well-defined requirements and contract terms that reflect a careful balancing of risks between the government and its contractors, as well as a skilled acquisition workforce capable of planning, negotiating and managing increasingly complex contracts."

It's not that contractor personnel are less aware of ethical obligations than are government personnel. But close mixing of the workforces raises concerns about the integrity of government decision-making, the protection of personal information and intellectual property, potential conflicts of interest and overall performance. Government and contractor personnel should not be melded or conjoined. Rather, they should interface and work cooperatively, each responsible to a different authority.

The congressionally mandated Acquisition Advisory Panel has recommended that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council develop policies and procedures to ensure that the growing use of contractors does not undermine the acquisition process. The nonprofit Procurement Round Table, dedicated to improving the federal acquisition system, recommends that policy-makers consider the following:

  • OFPP should provide clear guidance on the appropriate roles and responsibilities of government personnel. Mutual respect for distinct obligations is a bulwark against conflicts of interest.
  • Agencies should make conscious and transparent decisions about the use of contractors and their roles in carrying out contractually specified duties. They should take into account the means-especially staffing and compensation-to provide sufficient government personnel with the right skills to perform acquisition planning and to award and administer the contract.
  • Contracts should include clear terms requiring the avoidance or mitigation of conflicts of interest and the protection of personal information and intellectual property to which contractors will have access.
  • Federal acquisition personnel must be trained to protect the government's interests without telling contractors how to do their work or improperly interfering with their performance.
  • Both government and contractor personnel should receive special awareness training about the unique professional and personal challenges posed by a blended workforce, avoiding conflicts of interest and staying within the boundaries of appropriate relationships.

The blended workforce is woven into the government's fabric for the foreseeable future. The challenge for the acquisition community is to recognize this extraordinary transfer of responsibilities and make it work in the public interest.

Richard J. Bednar and Gary P. Quigley are directors of the Procurement Round Table.

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

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
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)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.


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