The Business of Outsourcing

As the years go by, the public service is getting more and more privatized. You might have witnessed in your respective countries that we should trust the private sector to deliver a better value-for-money service. Reagan and Maggy Thatcher started it all in the 80's, and it has lead to some extreme with the financial sector or the underdogs in the Iraq war. But I am not there to argue if it is a good or a bad thing. I have my own opinion on it, but I just want to show you how it is affecting us at the EC.

When it was created in the 1950's, with Germany, France, Italy and Benelux, the Commission was seen as the ultimate public sector agent. Those guys were offered a well paid lifetime employment in exchange for their technical, managerial, political expertises. Nowadays, ADMINISTRATORS are wanted...

The critical point was the 2004, with the Kinnock reform of the Status. No more cooks fonctionnaire, no more guard fonctionnaire... all outsourced to major contractors. In a sense, was it legitimate to give the same status to all the categories. The underlying rationale was that you should give a compensation package good enough to protect the Commission's independence. So it makes some sense to provide the cooking or cleaning services through the private sector, as I remind you incentives to perform well are rarely in our organisation.

Nowadays, on the higher level, the vision of the EC is to be a public government only to administer and use technical expertise from the private sector.

So the technical expertise is outsourced to Contractual Agents and consultants. It is starting to create a quality problem. One, CA are paid correctly, but their lack of long term perspective prevents from attratcting top talents. Don't get me wrong, CA are in vast majority bright and motivated individuals, but how much people don't join the EC because of the 3 year rule. With respect to consultants, the sacred consultants, it is not that we are paying them well, it is just that our procedures are very cumbersome and rarely focused on quality. Let me give you an example, or to say our dilema. You want some expertise on a domain that you don't have in-house. So if you have a lot of budget and a lot of time, than you just tender a call for proposal, get a panel of evaluators, wait 6 months before the guys deliver the product. If it is a quick need, then you use Framework contracts: in a week you get 3 proposals from selected contractors... contractors, not really, just recruiters who post the jobs on the Internet. And don't think you get the best consultants in a week of time!

Eventually, the critical question is: how do you evaluate the work of the consultants, when they have the expertise and you are just an administrator??? Do you hire other consultants to evaluate your first consultants?

It is all about finding the right balance between technical and administrative expertises... the original status was maybe to focus on the technical one, but the reform is rushing to the other extreme. But it is how reforms go, right?

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