Sunshine Week is a great time to celebrate the government’s progress in the area of public access to government information. Bills, hearings, and reports are being released and events are being held in Washington, DC, and in states around the U.S. This week also provides an opportunity to highlight government programs and actions that hinder government openness efforts.
One area that still lacks transparency is that of the service contractor workforce and its true count and cost, which Project On Government Oversight has written about for years (see, for instance, our Bad Business report and letters to Congress). In addition to POGO, In the Public Interest, is also calling for increased transparency in government contracting and privatization deals. This information is extremely important to determine the size and cost of the entire federal government workforce.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “[i]n fiscal year 2011, civilian agencies reported $161 billion in contract obligations, $126 billion (almost 80 percent) of which were for services such as professional management and information technology support.” However, the White House doesn’t feel that collecting the number of contractor full-time equivalents (CFTE) and total dollar amount invoiced in service contract inventories (SCI) is really important. It has even deferred the collection of some of that data pending the outcome of a proposed regulation (which POGO criticized and contractors hated for different reasons), listing nine data elements that must be included in the inventories. Unfortunately, the delay in getting that regulation finalized means that government agencies aren’t disclosing data that is required by law to be collected and released.
The GAO has recognized the shortcomings in the Administration’s data, stating that “[t]he lack of [service contractor] required information diminished the utility of the inventory because agencies do not have good visibility as to the number of contractor personnel or their role in supporting agency activities.”
In an effort to get better service contractor data to the public, we recently called or wrote to six agencies (HUD, DOJ, NSF, SBA, DOT, and DHS) because their posted SCIs were either MIA or available only in PDF format. PDFs aren’t user-friendly because it is very difficult to sort, export, and analyze the size and cost of the entire federal workforce. We asked the agencies to post the information as Excel files as well. The good news is that DHS and NSF now have done so. NSF even went out of its way to send us a letter stating that it “acted on [POGO’s] request and have made all NSF inventories available in Excel and PDF format….” The other agencies, however, have not responded to POGO and have not posted new files.
The Defense Department (DoD) isn’t much better. I have not found an Excel file for its 9,000 page inventory. However, DoD does provide summary data, so at least the public can see that in FY 2011 it had just under 710,000 CFTEs and obligated nearly $145 billion for service contracts. Wouldn’t it also be nice to see the actual size and cost of the entire government contractor workforce?
If senior government officials are serious about reining in federal spending, they might begin with three simple questions about federal and contractor employees: (1) Who are we employing?; (2) What are they doing?; and (3) How much do they cost? Believe it or not, Uncle Sam can’t answer those questions.