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Eye Opener: Homeland Security has more contractors than feds

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Wednesday! Officials at the Department of Homeland Security have told lawmakers in recent weeks that it employs more private contractors than government employees, a revelation that shouldn't surprise close observers of the department's seven-year history.

The department estimates it employs 200,000 contractors and roughly 188,000 federal employees, a total that does not include uniformed members of the Coast Guard.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Tuesday they want detailed workplace information from each of the department's more than 20 agencies.

"The sheer number of DHS contractors currently on board again raises the question of whether DHS itself is in charge of its programs and policies, or whether it inappropriately has ceded core decisions to contractors,” Lieberman and Collins wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

“We believe that the current balance between federal employees and contractors at DHS is unacceptable, untenable and unsustainable," the senators said.

Staffers on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said they learned of the government worker-contract ratio during budget briefings earlier this month. Napolitano does not plan to address the balance during a budget hearing with the committee today unless she's asked, her aides said.

“Since first taking office, Secretary Napolitano has been strongly committed to decreasing the department’s reliance on contractors and strengthening the federal workforce at DHS," the department's (newly minted) press secretary Clark Stevens said in an e-mail. "Over the past year, we have been actively converting contractor positions to government positions and will continue to build on these efforts at an even more aggressive pace this year."

Stevens didn't say where those conversions are occurring, but the department anticipates making substantial contractor cuts by the end of this year.

The Bush administration relied on contractors to help stand up the department in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and while some security responsibilities -- like airport security -- were quickly federalized, other functions -- like federal building security -- remain largely in the hands of private security contractors.

Lieberman may express shock that the department uses so many contractors, but he's yet to deliver on a promised bill to address the reliance on contractors at the Federal Protective Service, which oversees security at federal facilities. The Office of Management and Budget has also promised guidance to federal agencies on "inherently governmental functions" that contractors should no longer perform -- but we're still waiting.

So while lawmakers may express shock and the department's defenders use its young history to validate the size of its contractor workforce, it seems a formal decision on the breadth and depth of federal contractors is long overdue. Need more reasons? Skim the stories below for just some of the latest examples of reported contractor abuse.

Is the wide use of contractors at Homeland Security a good thing or not?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Question of the Week: As part of our new Federal Worker Page, here's this week's query: As a federal worker, are you satisfied with your health care, including the prescription drug benefit? Send your answers to

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Cabinet and Staff News: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sued for campaign motorcade fatality in Dallas. Guess which Obama administration official will leave first. Former White House green jobs czar will join the Center for American Progress (shocker!).

Bulk of census jobs won't come until late spring: 600,000 to 700,000 census takers will be hired from May through early July to visit individual households that fail to return census forms.

New York’s nooks are a challenge to Census takers: As the agency starts its most ambitious effort ever to count the country, no other city presents a bigger challenge than New York, with its huge immigrant population crammed into easily missed and often illegal nooks and crannies.

Air Force, Army leaders seek more data on 'don't ask, don't tell': They have concerns about the change and want to hear more from the Pentagon on the matter.

More satellites will act as eyes for troops: The top officer of the military’s Strategic Command has ordered up what might be called a “satellite surge” to increase the coverage and accuracy for GPS devices in the war zone.

Navy intends to allow female sailors on submarines: At issue is the end of a policy that kept women from serving aboard the last type of ship off-limits to them. The thinking was that the close quarters aboard submarines would make coed service difficult to manage.

Teasing vaccines from tobacco: The swine flu epidemic spurs the military to joint he hunt for plant-based alternatives.

Senate slams 'reckless' contractor: Investigators from the Senate Armed Services Committee also found weak oversight by the U.S. Army and Raytheon Co., which had hired the contractors from Paravant LLC to train Afghan forces.

Hiring freezes hamper weatherization plan: President Obama’s plan to create jobs and rein in energy costs through a steep increase in money for weatherizing the homes of low-income Americans has so far borne little fruit.

Federal regulation urged on cybersecurity: The federal government must become more aggressive in getting industry to protect computer networks because self-regulation is not working, leading experts told Congress on Tuesday.

Bill seeks transparency in employees' health program: With federal employees spending more than $10 billion a year on prescriptions, they might expect that their buying power would result in significant savings.

Most NSPS workers will return to the General Schedule by October: The transition office is in the process of certifying offices' and organizations' plans for returning NSPS employees to their previous pay systems, and those offices will inform workers once the strategies are approved.

O'Hare, Logan first to get new full-body scanners: The scanners will be installed in the next two weeks.

IRS worker's widow sues Texas suicide pilot's wife: An attorney says the lawsuit seeks to determine if the pilot left behind insurance policies or other assets.

U.S. to embed agents in Mexican law enforcement units battling cartels in Juarez: Under the new arrangement, most likely agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration would work alongside recent graduates of the new Mexican federal police academy who were trained by FBI and DEA advisers.

NTSB asks to monitor pilots' talk in cockpits: The move represents the first time that workplace monitoring could extend into the nation's cockpits and has drawn intense fire from pilots' unions.

SEC expected to approve restrictions on short selling:
The new rules by the agency will seek to strike a middle ground.

'God gap' impedes U.S. foreign policy, task force says: Narrow, ill-informed and "uncompromising Western secularism" that feeds religious extremism, threatens traditional cultures and fails to encourage religious groups that promote peace and human rights is to blame.

Washington sends delegation to Moscow, via Silicon Valley: Call it geek diplomacy.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | February 24, 2010; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Next: Question of the week: Federal health care


Congress has only itself to blame. It encouraged "contracting out" ALL activities that were not "inherently governmental." Well, that's a lot of work, depending on how you parse the words. And it could all be fixed by adding these few words to every appropriation act. "No more than [fill in the blank] percent of the Department's full-time equivalent positions may be filled by non-Federal employees."

It would save a bundle, make Government more responsive, but unfortunately it would antagonize the government contractors who donate billions of dollars to congressional coffers. So instead we have this charade of "outrage."

Posted by: gasmonkey | February 24, 2010 6:42 AM | Report abuse

no surpise here. wackenhut, haliburton, the then blackwater now remarketed do not make money from government employees or contribute on their behalf to presidential and other electoral campaigns. there is and was provision to hire government employees on a temporary basis but the only people making money from that are the employees.

Posted by: george32 | February 24, 2010 7:15 AM | Report abuse

Is it any wonder DHS is among the agencies with the lowest morale in the government? Contractors are a GOP specialty, with an extra push by GOP-lite Clinton. Thanks, Bill.

Posted by: jptjptjpt | February 24, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

Wait. Am I reading this correctly? Republican senators want to *expand* government employment??? Am I on Mars?

Posted by: cantwaitfor08 | February 24, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

so...if I want to become a federal employee I should first become a contractor with DHS and wait for DHS to convert that job into a federal position. This sounds easier than going through USAJOBS, which takes forever if you ever get the job. Also, are contractors going through the lengthy security check?

Posted by: kartis31 | February 24, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

It's a waste of money. Contractors cost way more than a regular employee with benefits. That's why so many who leave federal service come back as contractors. On top of that many of these contractors are poorly choosen. I'm surprised that many at my agency even have jobs. Don't get me wrong, contractors have a place in government, but they should only be used when there is a skill that doesn't exist in the scope of current federal workers or if there is a time contraint. And while that contractor is doing what they do, the federal employees need to be brought up to speed so they can take over. Many agencies can be a bit antiquated, so you may need to go outside sometimes, but not all of the time since Federal Hiring practices should be based on real skill sets anyway. But this mess at DHS is the result of Bush trying to dissolve government and make way for kickbacks in the private sector. He essentially swept federal workers aside. Remember, he even stone walled the unions. And of course McCaine is going to drag his feet as a pro-Bush supporter-at least until his campaign run. And in regards to the expediency because of 9/11, last I read DHS still hasn't secured the boarders or made any super obvious security enhancements that actually work. So the sooner leverage and supplies are given back to federal employees, the better.

Posted by: lidiworks1 | February 24, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

so...if I want to become a federal employee I should first become a contractor with DHS and wait for DHS to convert that job into a federal position. This sounds easier than going through USAJOBS, which takes forever if you ever get the job. Also, are contractors going through the lengthy security check?

Posted by: kartis31
Yes and yes...DHS is continously trying to hire federal employees to fill the positions that are vacant in the agency, and they use the most streamlined methods available in government to accomplish this; but with the need as great as it is, contractor employees who are able to prove their skills through performance are often converted to federal employees at DHS. And yes, they are required to clear the same security clearance as does federal employees. If you are looking for employment with the federal government, it would do you well to apply for employment with a contractor who does business with DHS.

Posted by: Beingsensible | February 24, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

This gives me Hope that there are still people left in the government who can be fired.

Posted by: member5 | February 24, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

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