The report here (May 16) that the government is paying 18,000 consultants more than $50 million for advice upset a lot of people. Including many consultants.
That report, based on a White House survey of the government's use of "outsiders," resulted in tough new guidelines agencies must use in hiring consultants. It also backstopped the White House program of cutting back many advisory commissions that the President attacked during his campaign.
Most of the letter writers - locals as well as from Louisiana, California and Hawaii - identified themselves as civil servants. They calimed that agencies have abused the consultant program.
Other readers were upset that Uncle Sam has to go outside for anything, with 2.6 million people already on the payroll.
Several people called, or wrote, to complain that the administration approach to consultants was simplistic, or political. And they also said the column itself was unfair in reporting on the situation.
Here is some feedback from readers who say there are some good things about the consultant program, and about advisory commissions aiding federal agencies and programs:
"Your May 16 column allowed your bias to seep through rather strongly. I doubt very much that you have ever been a federal employe and I would bet money you have never been a consultant. I have been both. I do not work for $180 per day. With overhead and taxes. It would be impossible to run a company on such a small sum. My fees are many times that figure. I do a lot of work for the government. But I also turn down more than half of the work the government offers. Why is that? The government is usually a lousy customer. They are slow, slow, slow pay. They expect miracles in areas where they are hiring you because they cannot perform the work in house. They often don't even understand either the problem or the solution.
"The government hires consultants because of peak load needs or lack of personnel or lack of expertise. I work in the latter area. A crackdown on consultants means nothing to me because I can make more money selling my services to private industry. But your lack of understanding is rather amusing.
"I left the federal government because 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work and the general incompetence finally gets to everyone who stays. You finally realize that you might as well ease off because you can't really change things . . . I hope this note will provide you with a different point of view."
Terry D. Miller, President, Government Sales Consultants, Inc., Annandale, Va.
Your May 16 column A Crackdown on Consultants' (now, that's a good headline) has finally provoked me into reply and I want to tell you a few things, since I have enjoyed reading your admonitions - sardonic and otherwise - for many years.
"A raw nerve? Perhaps, because I have worked with an advisory commission for almost 22 years. And although I have long been eligible for retirement, so it is not my job I am protecting, I want to protest as vigorously as I can the elimination of an extraordinary commission because the president, in his wisdom, following the kind of broad general propositions that you and others have helped spread, has abolished this statutory, bipartisan commission, and a new one has been created.
The Writer, Louis T. Olom, formerly chairman of the Advisory Commission on Information, which has been abolished, said nobody in the media or the White House has compared the cost of commission against their value to the government. His organization, for example, served the U.S. Information Agency (which has also suffered a name change under this administration) by providing expert advice from top editors and publishers.
Olom feels that the administration, to make political points, has taken a meat-ax approach toward advisory commissions, abolishing many of the better ones that provide relatively inexpensive citizen in-put, along with those of dubious value to the republic.
Both make good points. And they've now had their say, at least in this space.