Looking for a few good men (and women)
Despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates' war on Pentagon waste and the use of contractors, the battle for cleared and qualified people continues between the military and the private sector.
What does the competition mean? To try to answer this question: take a look at mammoth defense contractor SAIC and its hunt for new employees.
The McLean based-company, the most active company in Top Secret America, is trying to lure job candidates - only those with top secret clearances need apply - who are highly qualified in special operations, the core of fighting in the war against terror.
SAIC is holding a two-day job fair at the Double Tree Hotel in Fayetteville, near the Fort Bragg military base - which is home to U.S. Army special operations and the super-secret Joint Special Operations Command. That say some watchdogs and Congressional leaders gives the impression that the private contractor is poaching from the government's pot of highly skilled and trained workforce.
According to SAIC's ad for the job fair it is looking for project managers, systems engineers, information technology certified professionals, documentation specialists, disaster recovery administrators, and data architects. Submit resume, information on your active top secret clearance, and your salary requirements, states the ad.
It goes on to say that the hired employees will work to support the SOCOM (U.S. Special Operations Command) Special Operations Forces Information Technology Enterprise Contracts (SITEC). In English, SAIC is seeking employees to provide the backbone information technology services to the special operations community.
An SAIC spokeswoman didn't return calls and e-mails asking for more details about the job fair and whether we could attend.
Some watchdogs and Congressional leaders argue that SAIC is stealing talent that the federal government paid to train and selling it back to them. They point out that training special operations forces is particularly expensive, and with the expansion of special forces ranks, qualified uniformed operators are valued personnel.
"It's inevitable that the private sector will recruit people in the government to then sell back to the government the services of the private sector," said Gordon Adams, the head of national-security budgeting under President Clinton. "It is a classic figure eight where people can move from one to another."
"They are basically recruiting people who are doing SOCOM work to come work in the private sector who then go back and do similar work for SOCOM," Adams said. "SAIC is betting that the more people with top secret clearances it can get, the better off it is. It can hire them right away and then sell them back to the government so they can do a job they were already doing."
Rep. David Price (D-NC), who represents the area near Fort Bragg and has pushed for more accountability of government contractors, said in a statement, of the SAIC job fair near Bragg, "There's little question that our Armed Forces have lost many qualified personnel in recent years to the lure of private contractors offering lucrative salaries for the same type of work."
Price, who is chairman of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, argued that "in many cases, contractors are more expensive and less accountable than official government personnel."
SOCOM, however, says it isn't concerned.
Maj. Wes Ticer, a spokesman for SOCOM, said in an e-mail, "Those positions in USSOCOM IT department are performed by contractors," referring to the job candidates SAIC wants. "As such, we do not see this job search as an issue affecting retention of members of the special operations community," he said.
Still, Adams and other national security and contracting experts said the relationship between SAIC and SOCOM is exactly what Gates is trying to get rid of with his announcement this week to cut back funding for the use of private contractors for work.
The key to making Gates' savings plan work is not to replace the work outside contractors perform by hiring civil servants, according to Adams.
"He's going to have to hire people in the government or retain the very people SAIC is trying to take away and pay more than he can," Adams said. "That's not really saving, so for the dollars to really disappear, the entire DOD budget has to shrink and the department has to do less."
Others say they don't see SAIC's recruitment near Bragg as a big issue. In fact, they say the military has run ads encouraging those enlisted to get specialized computer skills so they can be considered more valuable when they get out and go work in the private sector.
The Special Forces Association, a nonprofit group based in Fayettville that has 10,000 members who are active or retired Special Forces personnel, said it sees little problem in SAIC recruiting so close to the military base.
"If they require someone with a clearance this is where you're going to find them," said an administrative director at the Special Forces group who asked that his name not be used. (Why no name? He's special forces and wouldn't say.) He said many career military personnel find that once they retire in their 40s, they're still young enough to go get another job -- in some cases with a contractor making a lucrative salary.
"Is SAIC stealing people from Fort Bragg special ops?" the director asked. "I don't think they are."
"These are not 19-year-old kids you're talking about here," he said. "They're not shopping at this stage in their life; they're career professionals with special skills."
August 12, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
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