CBP to cut its IT contractor workforce in half

Thursday - 1/13/2011, 6:51am EST

By Meg Beasley
Reporter
Federal News Radio

In an effort to combat an overreliance on contractors, Customs and Border Protection's technology office will reduce its contract employee staff by half in the next year.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Information and Technology Ken Ritchhart said his office wants to revamp its workforce in the coming year, in part, by replacing contract employees with federal hires.

Last year the agency had about 3,400 contractors and 1,500 government employees. Ritchhart said he plans to cut the number of contractors by 1,200 and raise the number of federal employees to 2,500 by the end of this year.

Ritchhart, speaking at an event in Washington Wednesday sponsored by IAC, said the department has already reduced its number of contractors by about 200 and has hired about 700 new federal employees.

The department expects realize a cost savings of about $40,000 per employee, including as much as $80,000 per employee for highly-skilled positions. He said CBP already saved about $30 million by reducing contractor staff, and could see a total of $40 million in savings by cutting further.

The savings are partially from lower salaries and partially from eliminating the middle man - the contractor.

These savings are significant considering CBP has seen its IT budget shrank by $300 million over the past two years.

Hiring new feds won't just save the department money, though; it will also be a way to bring young blood into an aging workforce. Ritchhart said a number of factors have led to his office having the second oldest average age in the agency. Many employees have chosen to extend their careers because of the economy, the agency has traditionally had a high retention, and the sophistication of the field requires experience.

Ritchhart said it is necessary to bring young hires in now before a large number of current employees retire in the next 10 years. To do this the department has focused its recruitment attention on students and recent graduates.

CBP had 150 interns last year and, at a recent job fair, hired 500 soon-to-be or recent graduates. Ritchhart said the CBP is also focusing on bringing in minorities and individuals with specific expertise, such as graduates from engineering colleges.

"We're looking at hiring more at the entry level," he said. "We want more of the 5s, 7s, and 9s. CBP's got way too many 14s and 15s."

Recruiting employees directly out of schools will help CBP's IT department update its knowledge base as well. Ritchhart said that CBP has begun re-training its employees to prepare them for coming technologies. His goal is to ensure that all CBP IT employees have at least two weeks per year of continuing training. He said that many of the recent graduates he hired at the job fair already possessed the skills current employees are being taught.

Those contractors that CBP continues to work with must update their staffs as well. Ritchhart estimated that 70 percent of the current contract workforce is unqualified to meet technology targets in the coming years. He warned vendors that their employees must be at least as qualified as his federal employees.

"If you're not bringing your staff up to speed you're going to have problems," he said.

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