Eye Opener: Homeland Security has more contractors than feds
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.
"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?
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| February 24, 2010; 6:15 AM ET
Categories: Eye Opener
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