Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Secret America Worth Looking Into

It has been ages since I have been really impressed by an investigative report. If you haven't examined the new Washington Post series on "Top Secret America", please do so. It is mind blowing!

If you click on "Explore the Connections" you can get this really well-done graphic that outlines all the areas where contract intel agents work. And then, you can drill down on every single colored bar. You literally drill down 4 levels- so you get a real top down approach to it all.

I can confirm that contractors are deeply embedded with government beyond the intelligence field. And managing all those contracts is fraught with problems. There is often a great deal of litigation when a contractor isn't selected with businesses contesting awards and the like. There are a lot of questions about the selection process. I know because I am trained now to look at contract proposals and to help determine awards. I am just a beginner, and I can probably name 5-10 problems I see in the selection process.

And, yes, contractors are way more expensive than government employees. And that money doesn't always go to the contractor's employees. In my office, contractors are earning $15 an hour to provide professional services, but the company is taking 60% of the contract profit for itself. And now it is telling its employees that the latest contract award will be "all about price" so that they may have to take pay cuts. This isn't true. So there are several abuses in contracting government work. Not only do the companies get rich, they don't always pay the big bucks to their employees preferring to operate more like Temp agencies.

In fairness to the contractor, working for the government isn't exactly a cakewalk. I have friends that are contractors and they are so resented by their government handlers that their assigned project is being sabotaged. Government employees aren't well trained in writing clear "Project Work Statements", so there are often misunderstandings between the contractor and the government about the scope of the work. My friends are a small business really trying to play fair. They offered a very fair price for their services, and now they are going to ask for adjustments upward because the government has "changed the scope" of the project simply by their own actions and their own useless processes. (I am totally on the contractor's side in this particular situation because I used to work for their government handlers and I left the division because of their stupid, unnecessary processes that guarantee that no project is completed.) So sometimes, contractors charge a lot because the government agency starts requiring more work than was originally envisioned or changing their requirements after the fact. And a contract poorly managed by government employees can easily break the very small businesses that are given preference in the award process.

The government hiring process is a disgrace and every hiring manager in government complains about it. EEO has become a monster that is out of control and beyond logic. Frivolous claims are being processed and the government lawyers refuse to go to court on the government's behalf, preferring to settle. (More on this for another day).

The Obama administration has tasked the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reform the government hiring process to make it more transparent and easy for applicants and managers to hire. He is also telling agencies that they must slash contracting. In my office, the contractors will get 18 months more and then they must go or be hired by the government as civil servants. So progress is slow, but sure. My only hope is that we get Obama for a second term or many of these reforms may not be completed.


Raised By Republicans said...

I haven't had time to look at the Washington Post story you linked to but I look forward to it.

I would like to know though if your experience has led you to believe the contractors are being used to circumvent Congressional oversight. That is, with all this top secret stuff and lots of contractors, does this - in your opinion - make contractors more interested in keeping the White House happy than Congress?

If my question is addressed in the story you linked to I apologize, just tell me where to look.

Raised By Republicans said...

BTW, great post! Long time no read! :-)

USWest said...

From where I sit, which is on the fringe of the intelligence community, I see the reliance on contractors as a way to circumvent the civil service hiring regulations which as I mentioned, make hiring so slow as to be impossible and firing even more impossible. I should probably post on that issue soon.

But, I don't think the contractors are trying to avoid Congressional oversite. The Bush Administration might have been. Remember, that is where a lot of this started. Since Congress holds the purse strings, it wouldn't be in a large contractor's interest to disregard Congress. In fact, you are going to lobby them.

Now, this next part is purse speculation on my part. But the thought wanders through my mind: Are there members of Congress that may be benefitting from relationships with Contractors? Jobs in your district, campaign contrabutions . . . Hummm . . .

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm glad to hear the Obama administration is doing something, at least. I was pretty ovewhelmed by the WaPo piece.

Welcome back, USWest!

Raised By Republicans said...

US West, that's an interesting question about Congressional reps pushing contractors to get jobs in their districts. The old cold war scam was getting a military base in your district. The "solid South" led to lots of "safe" seats for Southern Democrats in the 50s and 60s. That meant Southern reps tended to have the most seniority (and so chaired the committees). The result, a huge proportion of the military bases in the US are located in the South. It would be interesting to see where the contractors are.

USwest said...

The contractors are everywhere, particularlyy in the Virginia, so close to K street.
See the map on the website.