Federal lawmakers recently debated what the size of the federal workforce should be. But the problem is in determining the number of government employees and contractors, something the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s federal workforce subcommittee could not determine.

One conclusion reached during the subcommittee was that discussions on trimming the federal workforce should involve consideration of contract employees. Yet determining the number of contract employees is the hardest part of determining employee count.

“Across the government, you don’t have a good sense of what you’re dealing with” in terms of the quantity of contractors, said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica.

New bills introduced by the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee suggest cutting 10 percent of the government workforce beginning in fiscal 2015 by only allowing one federal employee to be hired to replace every three who retire or leave their jobs for other reasons. If passed, the legislation would force government agencies to hire more contractors at a higher cost, which is what happened in the mid-1990s when the federal government had a downsizing initiative, said John Threlkeld, assistant legislative director at the American Federation of Government Employees.

Yet Hodgkins said that cuts to the federal workforce should only be done when consideration of how those cuts will effect government operations. “If you just want to reduce the numbers, you’re also faced with reducing the full set of capabilities an office or agency is bringing to bear,” he said.

The Defense Department is considering a hiring freeze which would entail keeping a meticulous head count. Yet a coalition of Democratic senators is suggesting that instead of such a head count, the department should manage the size of the federal workforce with cost and workload in mind.

“Placing an arbitrary headcount on the number of federal employees at the DoD is not the way to make the department run more efficiently," said Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) in a letter. "Our federal employees are on the front lines every day, working hard for America. These hardworking men and women deserve to be treated fairly and should not be prevented from performing essential DOD functions because of an arbitrary headcount."

The senators argue that this goes against laws that restrict DOD’s ability to put a head count on the size of the work force. And when no new employees are hired, contractors will need to be hired to complete any new government work.

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Chandler Harris is a freelance business and technology writer located in Silicon Valley. He has written for numerous publications including Entrepreneur, InformationWeek, San Jose Magazine, Government Technology, Public CIO, AllBusiness.com, U.S. Banker, Digital Communities Magazine, Converge Magazine, Surfer's Journal, Adventure Sports Magazine, ClearanceJobs.com, and the San Jose Business Journal. Chandler is also engaged in helping companies further their content marketing needs through content strategy, optimization and creation, as well as blogging and social media platforms. When he's not writing, Chandler enjoys his beach haunt of Santa Cruz where he rides roller coasters with his son, surfs and bikes across mountain ranges.