Monday, May 2, 2016

Government Employees and Contractor Employees Working Side-by-Side

There are many situations where Government employees and contractor employees share offices, occupy cubicles in the same office space, or otherwise work in close proximity with one another. Those situations are not at all uncommon. It's found in the Department of Defense a lot as well as in other Governmental agencies. This creates certain challenges that need to be confronted and mitigated especially where there may be concerns about organizational conflicts of interest.

Consider a situation where a Government employee reviews and processes invoices, develops scopes of work, prepares independent Government estimates - all pertaining to a contractor whose employee is practically looking over his/her shoulder or is otherwise in a position to glean, overhear, or make inquiries about matters that have a direct bearing on his/her employment and/or his/her employer.

The Government will need to do something about such situations or face consequences like bid protests and whistleblower claims. A couple of things the Government has done in the past include:

  • Non-disclosure agreements. The value of these should not be understated. Although its just paper, it does places the contractor employee on notice not to divulge anything proprietary or sensitive that they learn from working within the program office - which would include not using it to the advantage of their company. Annual updates help reinforce the prohibition.
  • Implement physical separation as best as possible. Usually, the Government will try locating a contractor workforce in their own section or if that is not physically possible move them as far away from potential conflicts as possible.
  • Contractor standards of ethical conduct. This almost goes without saying. Every contractor with a contract in excess of $5 million is require to have written standards of ethical conduct and periodic (annual?) training to ensure compliance. While no one from the Government checks up on contractor compliance with this requirement very often, it would behoove the Government to be pro-active in making certain that contractors who work in close proximity with Government employees have compliant ethics programs.

The Government employee has some responsibilities as well. Based on the nature of some of the tasks the government employee is working on, the Government employee must safeguard the information he/she is working on.

Ultimately, the contractor is working as part of a Government team and should be acting in an ethical manner. At the end of the day however, there is only so much the Government can do to isolate proprietary information from individuals inside an acquisition office environment and beyond. It will come down to the integrity and ethics of the individuals supporting the Government as well as sufficient management oversight to ensure potential conflicts of interests are mitigated.

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