ACEC members continue to report examples of federal and state agencies engaging in commercial activities that are traditionally done by the private sector. Recent Administration memos, orders, and releases indicate a negative bias toward contracting with the private sector and calling for more contractor oversight, restrictive use of contract types, and control of contracting out by federal agencies. This is said to be needed to avoid wasteful, inefficient, misused, poorly designed contracts that result “in wasted taxpayer resources, poor contractor performance, and inadequate accountability.” Such thinking may turn into additional regulations and legislation from Congress to make it more difficult for federal agencies to contract out to the private sector.
Efficient and effective work performance and use of tax payers dollars should be the goal of all involved. While certain functions are truly inherently governmental, especially those dealing with law enforcement, defense, and the acquisition and oversight of contracts, most are not. In many cases, the private sector brings broader and unique experience, innovation and competitiveness, ability and flexibility to respond to fluctuating workloads, and lower costs.
In the case of engineering services, using in-house government employees for design work is similar to using only one design firm for all work over a long period of time. Innovation is stifled because of limited experience, lack of competitive thought, deficiencies in technical resources for unique projects and conditions, and repetitive use of what was previously done. In addition, since the in-house workforce is performing for a single client, the ability to respond to fluctuations in workload is hampered, often leading to inefficient overwork or under work conditions, with no ability to refocus or reduce the workforce. Instead, public agencies should have broad flexibility to partner with the private sector, especially for important, high-risk projects, with restricted schedules and budgets.
ACEC believes that legislation should not focus on unfairly punishing contractors for pursuing government work and thereby decreasing competition and expanding government workforces. In this time of economic crisis, the economic engine of the private sector needs to be strengthened. In addition, federal and state agencies should not engage in commercial activities that are readily available in the private sector. The principle that the government should not compete against its citizens is reflected in federal procurement policy. This concept has also been embraced by Congress through passage of federal laws such as the FAIR Act, which requires federal agencies to produce an annual inventory of non-inherently governmental functions and evaluate whether these activities would be better performed by the private sector.
ACEC continues to advocate that the expertise and innovation of private sector firms ensure the delivery of quality, on-time services to government clients. The American taxpayer also benefits from the savings that are realized when federal and state governments contract out planning, engineering, design and related professional services.