The Bloated Bureaucracy Of Private Contracting

A reader writes:

The email from the government contractor is so right on it’s sickening. In an effort to reduce the size of government, Republicans – and some Democrats, but can we all agree that the thrust of the PRIVATIZE EVERYTHING argument comes from the Rs? – have us paying twice as much for the same work, and often the work is totally unnecessary. In many cases, the government actually hires contractors to supervise other contractors – this is insanity. Much like the disturbing loop of Hill staffers who work for a few years then move on to become high-paid lobbyists, government workers who move on to become contractors are just doing what makes the most sense for them, but their goals then change to become what is best for the company they now work for, not the government program or taxpayers.

Similarly, agencies are now hiring managers not for their ability and expertise in the field, but for their perceived ability to deal with contractors. Or the opposite happens and agencies have situations like the Federal Protective Service where (among many, many other problems) law enforcement officers are acting as contracting officer technical representatives and spending hours each day conducting contract guard paperwork checks instead of responding to incident calls and patrolling federal facilities. The Government Accountability Office has done tons of reports on the problems of contracts at specific agencies and the federal contracting world in general. All of this is even more scary when you consider that a single contract can be worth more than $5 billion per year, in the case of a contract issued for support services in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another reader:

IT is what the government and its contractors do worst. Remember the shock of discovering, post 9/11, that the FBI didn’t have a functioning computer system? The kinds of things your reader highlights are exactly why. Not sure if that ever got settled. The biggest shock in the unfolding NSA revelations is that it apparently has capable hardware and software systems.

Of course nothing will happen to improve federal contracting and oversight because the corporations with these contracts are filled with revolving-door politicians, and they employ the usual army of lobbyists. Ironically, Congress has no one to blame but itself for the mess.


That person with the epic rant was speaking the truth. I also work for a government contractor and find the process very frustrating, to say the least. The ranter is absolutely right about the many flaws in the process.

Our clients are not in the defense industry and our budgets are much smaller than what the “big guys” see. But the waste is still appalling, most often because of poor management by the government officials. They never, NEVER, approach a project as a business would: with clear goals, established benchmarks and metrics, firm deadlines and a willingness to take steps to either meet those goals, benchmarks and deadlines or to make the necessary corrections if they aren’t met.

Contractors almost never get fired and government staff never do. In most cases, they aren’t screwing up because they’re evil, they just don’t have the mindset of “we need to get this to market now, make sure it meets the needs of the audience, and then fix it if it doesn’t.” I think because in most cases the project in question is designed to “do good” that provides them in their minds with a built-in excuse: so we’re behind schedule and over budget and this isn’t exactly doing what it was supposed to do, it’s helping some people.” So that’s good enough.

What really startles me is how many contracts are awarded because one employee at a mid-management level thinks it’s a good idea. It may well be but in many cases, they leave or no one else shares their interest, so money is spent and nothing is done, or projects wither on the vine for years.

I happen to believe in a large, active government because I believe that if the government doesn’t do it, the private sector will not pick up the slack and the country will suffer. But I hate to see our money wasted, especially as we focus on the deficit and debt. Forget the debate over small vs. large government, the real debate should focus on what steps would our leaders take to make sure the government operates efficiently and effectively.

Now, back to work for me.