I work for a small business that provides software, services and system integration for the federal government. I have taken part in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process and the delivery of services and software. Our company has performed work for many government agencies, but the money is better concentrated in the Intelligence Community (IC). The IC is a term that applies to all of the major players, Department of Defense entities like the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) the National Ground Intelligence Agency (NGIC) or the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). Of course there is the NSA and the CIA and a slew of other smaller entities like the National Reconnaissance Office (NCO). I am not an apologist for the large system integrators like SAIC, Lockheed, CACI, or BAE, but they have been facing loads of consolidation due to budget cuts. This does not affect the fat cats on top so much, they make less than the boom years, but it does affect many of the grunts like myself who actually do the work. Our job security is not so good right now. That's not what I want to write about. I want to convey a couple points about what I have observed over the last few years and the work I do. Point 1: The Federal Government should be buying stuff, not staff. Point 2:The System as it currently functions is corrupt. It is corrupt in way very similar to the way former Congressional staff become lobbyists. The system is about access and access translates into money. I will convey this through some general references to the work I have been involved with which I suspect is far from unique.
So here's the story:
A little while ago one of these intelligence agencies put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for the next generation of a system that was/is currently in use. The new system needed to conform to changes in software capabilities and standards. It needed to better serve the essential mission of the agency. Our company had a proprietary software platform that fit most of the requirements and just needed some customization to fit the agency's particular needs. We are a small business and we cannot possibly deliver such an important piece of software alone (wink, wink) and so we were the subcontractor to a large system integrator. Another large system integrator held the current contract, knew the agency and its mission very well, but they had been ripping off the government for years. Doing things like, "Oh, you want that order button in the software to be green instead of blue? That will cost 40K to develop." Many in the agency did not like the incumbent contractor. Unbeknownst to us, however, many in the agency more than liked the incumbent--they were looking for jobs after they retired. Very lucrative jobs. Jobs that utilized their government contacts to steer more contracts to the company.
Our team won the contract. The incumbent, however, yelled and screamed, stamped their feet on the floor and got all their supporters in the agency to help them. So what happened then? The agency went forward developing both systems doing the same thing, and that's where we are now--complete duplication of effort that is supposed to go away in the future. We'll see about that. So many of the people inside this agency are/were looking to work for the incumbent contractor when they get out that they totally circumvented the contracting process. I am pretty sure this happens all the time.
It makes sense for the government to hire contractors to build a software application. Once a good application is in place, running it is not so hard. However, it does not make sense for contractors to run that system after it is up. That should be done by government employees. That way, the software is controlled by the government, and run by the government. That's not what happens typically. What happens is that one of these large system integrators builds a system and then leaves behind an army of contract staff to support it. Moreover, all the expertise about the system resides with the contractor and the government is often ill equipped to control the contractor or the system. This is a situation built for over charging. Over charging to the point of corruption. The government becomes beholden to the contractor and the program usually grows. This is exacerbated by Business Development types who take over and figure out ways to get more people in, more systems in and bill for more dollars. Its not more efficient either, because each of these contractors comes with the middle man cost added on. If they were government workers, then we would be paying them directly. Instead, the overhead goes to company profits, and let's not kid ourselves, there's a ton of profit still here. Its not as much as before, but there are many who are still making a ton of money.
At the agency where I do most of my work, a significant majority of the workers are contractors. You can tell by the color of their badges. Contractors have one color, Govies have another. My rough estimate is 4 contractors for every Govie. This should not be. Its the same as Blackwater replacing military units. Increased cost, and ultimately far less oversight. I hope people start to realize how this works. I hope we can figure out how to change this corrupt system. I'm not holding my breath though.