An Executive Order Whose Time Has Come

August 16th, 2013 at 9:13 am

The NYT has a resonant editorial this AM about the need for an executive order to improve the quality of jobs among federal contractors. 

These days, when I say “federal contractor,” you think Snowden.  And it turns there are lots of them doing highly classified work for which they are handsomely paid.  They are not the folks we’re talking about here.  The workers who would benefit from the EO suggested by the NYT, and in an earlier post by yours truly, clean federal buildings, sell food, sew uniforms for the armed services, provide security services, and so on.  They’re members of the low-wage work force.

The President, to his credit, has been on the stump for a minimum wage increase to help reach these workers, and that’s a better way to fight this problem, because it cuts across all industries.  But Congress isn’t listening, and thus he’s been clear and strong on this point: if Congress won’t help, I’ll do what I can through EOs.

So here’s the EO that we need to see, and the sooner the better: procurement officers—the folks who decide which firms get the bid—should be able to factor job quality into their decision.  It’s that simple.  By law, they have to take the lowest bid, but that rule is of course conditional on the quality of the output, otherwise my kid could win the bid to build a bridge out of Legos.  Well, there’s good evidence that the quality of the work is a function of the wage, working conditions, commitments to training, workforce tenure, and such characteristics that we see in high-road versus low-road employers.

Simply allowing procurement officers to consider those characteristics when they’re deciding who gets the bid would improve the quality of work and the living standards of thousands of contracted workers.  The contractors and their lobbies won’t like it, but let’s be very clear: this is a mild intervention—it is not saying “we’ll give the bid to the firm that pays the most.”  It’s saying, all else equal, controlling for the bottom line (and thus protecting the taxpayer), we’ll give the bid to the better employer/producer.

I rarely bug the President directly, and I’m sorry to do so while he’s on vacation.  But sir, I believe you when you say you’ll work around our frozen Congress when you have to, as you have in the past.  This is an excellent time and a great cause to do so again.

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4 comments in reply to "An Executive Order Whose Time Has Come"

  1. DJ says:

    Not for very long on the “Snowden” type contractors, Jared. NSA is firing 90% of contractors which is approximately 900 systems administrators.

    Part of their reasoning? We are putting things in the “cyber cloud”. Typical I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-saying announcement. “Cyber cloud?” It’s ‘cloud’ period, and the backbone of that ‘cloud’ are systems that require SysAdmins to maintain.

    The other part of their reasoning? The “cyber cloud” will build secure networks. WTF? Even the NSA’s systems aren’t smart enough to ‘self-deploy’.

  2. Patricia says:

    Jared, what do you say to folks who think that “federally mandated wages” (eg, Davis-Bacon) drive up costs and kills competition ostensibly killing jobs for low-skilled, low-wage workers? And also make the claim it’s “racist.” (Which is rich coming from the person who made this claim in response to the NYT editorial). Per the following: