Maximizing the Government-Consultant Relationship

Government entities often hire outside consultants to solve problems or complete projects. This may occur when government entities don’t have the in-house expertise needed. Or, it may occur when government staff don’t have the capacity or the time to complete the work. But, there are unique features to the government-consultant relationship.

Consultant Status

Consultants are not employees and should not be treated as such. It’s a completely different relationship. And, the IRS has issued guidance about this relationship. So, to avoid any problems, check with your Human Resource Department for details.

Be clear on exactly what you want the consultant to do. What are the deliverables? What is the consultant’s role? Are you hiring them to analyze a problem and recommend a solution? Or, are you hiring them to complete a project? How long will the project take – is it long or short-term? Will they work remotely? Is the consultant reporting directly to you or are they working with a team of staff? How will you be kept informed about progress? And, what is the capacity of the consultant? Are they a sole proprietor or part of a consulting team?

The Process

Once you are clear about what you want the consultant to do, design a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ). If the work is contingent on grant funding, be sure to state that in the RFP or RFQ. You can also ask for references to be included in the proposals. We work closely with our municipal purchasing department to ensure that RFPs or RFQs are designed correctly and that we adhere to the purchasing guidelines of the municipality.

When consultants submit responsive proposals for the RFP or RFQ, you will be able to interview them. And, this is the time in the process to get clarification about the content of their proposals. If you are not satisfied with any of the proposals, don’t be reluctant to reissue the RFP or RFQ. Or, if you do decide to hire one of the consultants, check their references.

The Contract

The work relationship between the government entity and the consultant should be delineated in a written contract. We work with our municipal attorney to design those contracts. Contract language needs to be clear, concise and specific about the scope of work. And, the contract should address the items identified above including the agreed-upon compensation. Consultants will base their price on things like the nature of the work, the type of deliverables and the amount of time required for completion of the work. If you feel that the cost of the project is too high, negotiate with the consultant. The scope of the work can be modified in order to bring the cost down. But, as a result, you or your staff may have to assume some of the project work. Also, the contract should include a clause that allows you or the consultant to terminate the contract if things don’t work out or some unforeseen circumstance arises.

Other Considerations

Hiring a consultant is as much about fit with your organization as it is about obtaining the consultant’s expertise. So, if problems arise with the consultant, deal with those problems as they occur. There may be a code of ethics for the consultant’s profession which may be helpful in resolving issues.

If you identify the need for additional work outside the scope of the work in the contract, you will need to negotiate that with the consultant. And, expect the consultant to charge an additional fee for that work. Your municipal attorney can address the necessary contract language.

So, when you don’t have in-house expertise or capacity to complete a project or solve a problem, hiring a consultant could be the answer. But, before you do, consider the issues and answers to all the questions raised above. Then you should be able to maximize the government-consultant relationship.

Mary Roche Cronin is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is the Director of Human Services for the Town of Manchester, Connecticut and has held that position since January 2005. She is responsible for management of four divisions, provides contract oversight for community agencies receiving town funding, and represents the town on community, regional and statewide human services planning and advisory groups. She also provides oversight of the department budget and state and federal grant funding. She has a Master’s degree in Child Welfare from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut and a Juris Doctorate from Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. You can read her posts here.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

I think this is a perspective that more folks need resources like this for. I totally agree that consultants are very much a necessary culture fit for the organization. Thanks for sharing!