Not So Quiet Revolution

NPR's Daniel Zwerdling made a nice run this week at drawing attention to the huge increase in government contracting. In two stories, he drew together themes that have been percolating for several years, producing a very good overview of issues that now confront President-elect Barack Obama.

It's stuff you have surely contemplated. But he brings a clarity to the subject that makes it worth digging into. He's good. The stories are strong.

Given the stakes -- hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars -- and the problems -- oh my, the problems -- Government Inc. believes we can't have too much of this journalism, especially when it's this accessible.

From day one:

"'There has been a very quiet revolution in how the government performs its functions,' says Katherine Schinasi, one of the top officials at the GAO."

"I think what worries me most is we are not sure how we got here," Schinasi says, "and we're not sure why we're here and, most troubling to me, whose interest is being represented. I believe that this is one of the most important issues that the new administration and subsequent administrations have to face."

Day two:

"Bush administration officials have hired corporations to do more of the government's work than ever before -- twice as much, in dollars. And even though the government's own investigations reveal that many of those corporate contractors have bungled the job, the new president will confront entrenched interests that could be difficult to shake up.

He reaches out to Clay Johnson at OMB for the administration response. Johnson told Zwerdling that "President Bush has turned to contractors because it's pragmatic. Johnson says the administration has faced all kinds of crises -- the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, Hurricane Katrina -- and it has needed help, fast. Corporations can give it."

"'The most important thing is the mission: What are we trying to accomplish?' Johnson says. 'And if we're trying to accomplish something and we do not -- the federal government does not -- have the personnel at that point to do it, I believe it would be appropriate to pull in outside people under the close supervision of government people to accomplish that mission.'"



By Robert O'Harrow |  December 4, 2008; 9:34 AM ET Procurement Debate
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'And if we're trying to accomplish something and we do not -- the federal government does not -- have the personnel at that point to do it, I believe it would be appropriate to pull in outside people under the close supervision of government people to accomplish that mission.'"

Ah, and there's the rub. Government people provide little to no oversight even in matters of life and death we find tangled layers of subcontractors and no one held to account. Katrina, Iraq, a stunning lack of oversight relying on the contractors themselves to self regulate. The Bush administrations solution has been to hire more contractors to oversee the contractors.

Posted by: markswisshelm | December 5, 2008 1:19 AM

What the article doesn't mention is that a government employee CANNOT supervise contractors. Most contracts, especially those that provide services and technical support are performance-based contracts, that only allow the government to evaluate the contractor on his performance on meeting the requirements of the contract, which more often than not, do not have a performance matrix upon which to evaluate the performance/deliverable of the contractor. The government today is trying to operate more efficiently through performance-based evaluations, and are even failing there as many objectives placed on employees cannot be matriced to show degrees of value-added to the government. Many of the objectives given to employees are too often based on opinions.

Posted by: rjwmsiii | December 10, 2008 9:28 AM

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