Competitive Sourcing: Crisis and Opportunity

by Janet M. Ruck

According to the President's Management Agenda, nearly half of all federal employees perform tasks that are available commercially. Some of the tasks include data collection, administrative support and payroll services. As of July 2005, it was estimated that approximately 400,000 federal employees were engaged in commercial work. It is estimated that $5-7 billion can be saved each year if these jobs were to be competed. Competitive sourcing asks agencies to compare the costs of having federal employees do the work versus engaging the services of private sector business. All federal agencies are required to identify functions and proceed with the competitive sourcing process. Whoever provides the taxpayers with the best value is chosen to perform the work.

The prospect of competitive sourcing can be an opportunity for career professionals whose clientele includes federal employees to engage affected workers in career development in its purest sense. Often, the culture of security and the climate induced by resistance to change erode workers' edge, their willingness to learn and to seek out challenges. Stories abound of the ambitious new employee who was admonished not to work so hard or so fast because it made everyone else "look bad." 
No more. The times, they are a "changin".

Inertia is often security's companion. However, in these times of competitive sourcing, it can be a career-killer. The same principle, upon which competitive sourcing is founded, better quality for a better price, may provide a model which encourages all employees to keep their skills razor sharp, regardless of whether or not they keep their federal jobs. As career professionals, we can use the need for competition to alert our clientele to their need to keep their skills current and their careers fine-tuned. For better or for worse, competitive sourcing is changing the way government does business, and, by default, the manner in which government employees view and develop their business and professional skills. The principles of career development can provide vital lessons for those who may not have honed their skills, or even identified them.

It is incumbent upon us to find the source of motivation for our clients. The motivation can come from internal or external sources. In the case of competitive sourcing, motivation for change and potential growth is coming from an external source. When these clients come to us for assistance, they are usually angry, frightened and/or grieving. We often hear: "I knew I should have gone back to school years ago. Then this would not have happened to me." Or: "I worked in this place for 20 years. How dare they give my job to a contractor!" There are variations to these laments, but these are some of the common themes.

It can be helpful to guide them in reframing their situation, from plight to opportunity, allowing them the time to feel and express their emotions. But the time to act is now, and moving them from their emotional position to a position of action is a challenge that we and they face together. This is the chance for us to use all of the tools at our disposal: assessments, skills inventories, career planning, goal-setting, resume writing.

Competitive sourcing, crisis or opportunity? In my opinion, it is both. However, like all else in the career counseling field, it is what the clients do with the situation that will determine if this is a positive or a negative. Our role is to provide them with the resources, the guidance and the support to coach them to the path they ultimately will choose to take.

Janet M. Ruck
is a career counselor and trainer with a federal government agency. The scope of her job includes assisting employees through career transition, as a result of competitive sourcing. Janet is also the new Associate Editor of the Government Department for Career Convergence. She is now accepting government article submissions and can be contacted at janetruck@yahoo.com.

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