June 10, 2010 at 3:06 am #102640
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.
June 10, 2010 at 9:17 am #102654
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.
June 11, 2010 at 11:39 am #102652
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…
June 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm #102650
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.
June 11, 2010 at 8:49 pm #102648
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.
June 11, 2010 at 9:29 pm #102646
Very true…and you are right that a few mission series like 2210 have pay differences and I think contracting also has extra incentives.
June 11, 2010 at 10:41 pm #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?
June 13, 2010 at 8:56 pm #102642
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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