Greg Dean (left), a US Army civilian contractor, and Sgt. Thomas Caudill (right), perform pre-flight checks on the RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle in preparation for launch at Fort Bragg, N.C. (US Army Sgt. Christopher Harper)
WASHINGTON — With the US government shutdown now in full swing, and defense stocks stable, experts don’t expect that contractors are suddenly going to be in the red.
But the shutdown may just be the final push that convinces some Defense Department civilian employees that it’s not worth working for the government anymore.
That’s the major concern that industry officials are voicing as furloughs and staff cuts begin to pile up, an effect of budget showdowns and political wrangling.
“There is real concern that because of the furloughs, and again it’s not just the shutdown, it’s the budget environment, I think folks are asking themselves, why stay?” said Christian Marrone, vice president of Aerospace Industry Association’s national security and acquisition policy group.
Part of it is the financial impact on employees, said Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners.
“If they are furloughed again, I imagine it blows a lot of holes in family/individual budgets,” Callan said. “How many really have the financial cushion to go without another six, 12 or 18 days of pay? The younger ones who can leave, will. What other sector of the US economy is inflicting this sort of pain and uncertainty on its workforce?”
That departure could be especially harmful on an acquisition workforce that is still rebuilding after cutbacks in the 1990s. One of the major concerns DoD leadership has voiced has been the relative inexperience of much of that workforce, something the agency has been working to address and was even mentioned under the heading of “professionalizing” the acquisition workforce as part of the Better Buying Power 2.0 initiative. Without experienced acquisition employees in place, the buying process can become confused and prone to mistakes.
But if some of those acquisition employees DoD has invested in begin to depart, it undermines the effort, Marrone said.
“The whole undertone of Better Buying Power could be impacted,” he said.
It’s not just the salary issues that may convince employees to leave, it’s also the very process of organizing DoD for a shutdown. In order to keep vital parts of the government running, certain employees are “exempted” from the shutdown. This more delicate word is usually replaced by the terms “essential” and “non-essential” in colloquial discussion of a shutdown.
And employees who are labeled as “non-essential” are bothered, Marrone said.
“When you start notifying people that they’re not essential, people don’t forget that,” he said. “The immediate concern is a morale situation where you have folks who don’t feel like they’re valued.”■