Misson Support Staff Less Qualified Than Program Side?

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 8 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #102640

    Steve Ressler

    Was talking to a senior government official the other day and he made a provocative statement.

    He said…in government
    -Mission support (IT, HR, Acquisition) government folks are as a whole less qualified and competent than private sector mission support
    -Program/Mission government folks are as a whole equal or more qualified than program/mission in private sector.


  • #102654

    Henry Brown

    Generalities will get you in trouble the overwhelming majority of the time….

    I know extremely well qualified Mission support people in both the private sector and the federal public sector, as I know some less than stellar folks in both sectors.

    Keeping in mind the first paragraph, less qualified people are more tolerated in the public sector probably because it is more difficult to “release them” which is probably one of the reasons that there is more “churn”/turnover in the private sector

    a case could be made that at least 3 high profile IT project failures, FBI system upgrade, OPM retirement management, and FAA upgrade were in fact failure of private sector mission support.

    Been several months now since I looked at OMB’s watch list of “at risk” projects but as I recall a significant percentage of them were identified as being “managed” by private sector mission support with varying degrees of oversight by government managers.

    The federal government, during a somewhat famous republican’s administration, was apparently, the first to take the approach that the private sector could do most everything better than government, and if we outsourced the mission support function we would not have to directly pay for high quality IT and Acquisition services.

    Over the past 30 years the government has made significant effort to NOT pay directly for mission support and in that environment you tend to get what you pay for.

  • #102652

    Henry Brown

    From the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/us/11arlington.html

    Arlington National Cemetery still uses paper to track the approximately 320,000 people buried there, despite millions of dollars it has paid to contractors to computerize its records. The report found that the cemetery lacked the expert staff necessary to properly manage contractors, and that Army agencies did not properly oversee the cemetery’s contracts.

    Probably enough blame to go around a couple of times but …

    It would appear, at this time, that MOST of the repercussions are in fact falling on the program managers but…

  • #102650

    Steve Ressler

    I agree in terms of generalities being really false in areas like this.

    But I also thought was interesting as never heard it before and came from someone with a range of experiences.

  • #102648

    Kate Yemelyanov

    Government “mission support” or admin staff work under regulatory and operational constraints that our private sector counterparts do not. I was on TV overseas once explaining the U.S. electoral college – in a foreign language – and that was a cakewalk compared to the effort I have to put into making USG procurement and HR policies comprehensible to my program colleagues.

    Government program staff may be more qualified than their private sector peers, but not in every professional field and under every circumstance. Very few of the program people I know could get the same combination of salary and work-life balance in the private sector that they get in the government.

    We don’t pay a differential to people in the 301 series (general staff) to keep them in government. We do pay a differential to the people in the 2210 series (IT) to keep them in government. If relative staff turn-over and competitiveness in the private sector are measures of relative qualification, then your senior government official has it backwards.

  • #102646

    Steve Ressler

    Very true…and you are right that a few mission series like 2210 have pay differences and I think contracting also has extra incentives.

  • #102644


    I can’t speak from a Federal gov’t HR perspective, mine is from the private sector (for a number of years) and the state level. From the field of HR, there might be some truth to “Mission support (IT, HR, Acquisition) government folks are as a whole less qualified and competent than private sector mission support”. I have seen a difference in skill level in private vs. public HR, but I suspect it has to do with the state of Arizona’s low salary schedule and now add to that the state’s budget problems. If you can’t attract (okay, sometimes we attract, but we’re not Retaining!) employees with a certain skill set, and you have need to fill a position, what do you do?

  • #102642

    Dan Morgan

    A driving force behind this might be the fact that mission support personnel tend to be at lower grades and held to a lower qualification standard than program people. Indeed, most of the professional occupations (engineering, law, medicine, science, and mathematics/statistics) have degree requirements and explicitly attract personnel who tend to appear more qualified.

    It is also true, as other commenters have pointed out, that the statutory/regulatory considerations that have been levied upon mission support staff are often hidden/not fully understood by program personnel. Of course, program personnel just want to “get the job done” and don’t really want to hear that (insert law here) says that things need to be done a certain way – the perceived inertia in mission support is a source of frustration. Indeed, that is why so many program managers tend to circumvent the statuory/regulatory concerns that bind mission support staff and do things like “shadow development” of IT systems.

    Then there’s the consideration that in these mission support occupations, professional certification programs tend to drive home the institutional barriers to innovation, teaching these practitioners the way it is, not the way it should be. Occupations without positive education requirements rely heavily on certification programs that may actually teach these mission support personnel how to keep doing things the same way, stifling the innovative spirit.

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