The Department of Homeland Security’s chief information officer today said DHS had made significant strides in rebalancing its over-reliance on contractors to manage DHS’s information technology projects.

When Richard Spires took the CIO helm at DHS two years ago and began a detailed review of more than 80 department IT projects, he soon realized that 110 employees was far too few in number, compared to the 1,500 outside contractors DHS was relying on, to manage DHS’s portfolio of $6.4 billion in IT projects.

“My organization directly managed $1 billion to oversee headquarters projects, the contractors (associated with them), run enterprise services…and provide oversight over the $5.4 billion” that DHS passed down to component organizations for IT projects.

“That didn’t feel right walking in the door,” and his project reviews confirmed that, he said, speaking at a government technology conference called FedTalks, produced by FedScoop.

Spires saw a similar overreliance on outside contractors and too few dedicated federal project managers as CIO at the Internal Revenue Service and resolved to make rebalancing the staffing on each of DHS’s projects an underlying strategy.

“I can’t stress how important it is to me, when I look at these programs, to get that balance right,” he said. Part of that decision hinges on determining “What should a strong PMO (project management office) look like?” he said, which varies depending on the scale and complexity of the project.

Today, Spires said his IT staff now numbers 351 dedicated federal government IT and project managers and is much more in line with where he feels it needs to be.

“We’ve lowered the contractor workforce, but I know we’re a much stronger organization,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the job contractors do. There are just many roles where a contractor can’t step in and be successful,” he said. (See “When is a function inherently governmental?) Spires recently outlined those positions in a blog post on

“A lot of this rebalance also depends on getting the right kind of trained people” he said.
Spires dismissed the notion that federal agencies can’t attract the necessary talent.

“Federal agencies,” he said, however, “need to do a better job describing their mission to attract good people. We were able to get people off of Wall Street, from other agencies, as well as contractors. I have a very compelling story,” he said. “I just don’t think government tells that story that effectively.”

Spires stressed the need to attract talent by showing people the kind of career track that is possible, and the interesting kind of work they can be involved in.

“It’s okay if they want to spend five years in government and then go into the private sector,” he said. Even if employees move into the government contracting community, there knowledge and expertise comes back to help the government at large, he said.

In addition to rebalancing the core project management teams, Spires said DHS is also benefitting from three other initiatives he’s trying to achieve: To rationalize the DHS’s infrastructure; to standardize best practices; and to continue attempting to integrate common functions.