Some government contractors received proverbial “coal in the stockings” this past holiday. In late December the Navy announced that BAE Systems PLC would no longer perform surface ship repair at the U.S. Navy’s Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, thus eliminating 325 jobs.

The contracts had been with private shipyards and other firms for maintenance on non-nuclear surface ships, but the multi-ship, multi-option contracts that used cost-reimbursements have been replaced nationally by a Navy strategy that has been described as “multiple award contract-multi order.” This new system will use firm-fixed-price contracts that do not allow adjustments for cost overruns.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Massachusetts-based government contractor S4 Inc. announced that it would also lay off 77 information technology employees at its Colorado Springs operation after losing a federal contract. Those employees will be laid off on January 26, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) letter that S4 filed with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

These are just two examples of contracts with the federal government coming to an end. The contractors can likely pick up other work on other contracts, in some cases, but there may be other areas where job retraining becomes a necessity, as old skills go out, and new skills come in. Automation could be a big part of it – both to fill the openings in such sectors as cybersecurity, but also to address areas where agencies must do more with less.

“While there is such a lack of resources in the industry, the government/contractor sector may utilize more IT automated tools to free up the resources to focus on other IT projects needed to protect their organizations,” James McQuiggan, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, told ClearanceJobs.

This could in turn bring even greater change in the government and contracting sector.

“There is no doubt that technology and automation is changing our global work environment, but this change brings opportunity to create new jobs and increase productivity,” Brendan Walsh, senior vice president of partner relations at the 1901 Group, told ClearanceJobs. “We see this manifesting itself with more government jobs moving closer to and focused on the citizens’ experience and more contractor jobs shifting away from labor-based contracts to being part of consumption-based services like cloud.”

Focus on Technology

The role of technology is what could evolve, even at the highest levels. In 2017 the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy had been reduced from more than 100 under President Barack Obama to just 35 under President Donald Trump. However, the fear that the Trump administration was ignoring science and technology has largely been exaggerated, and some of those past concerns even receded in 2018 when the President nominated meteorologist Kelvin Droegemeier to run the office.

Staffing at the Office of Science and Technology reached 60, the same level it was under President George W. Bush, while President Trump also signed an executive order to launch the American AI Initiative last February. That order was for the government to prioritize science spending towards the development of artificial intelligence (AI), speed its development and to secure the technology.

How significant this will be is the question.

“There may be a pocket here and there as jobs are replaced with automation and machine learning, but the government is still proving to be a slow adopter of technology,” suggested Stan Soloway, president & CEO of Celero Strategies.

“2020 could prove to be more pivotal collectivity as there is the digital transition of government,” Soloway told ClearanceJobs. “More and more practitioners are talking about it. We’re at the point where more innovation is taking place, and we’ll see that turn. Another area to watch is with the efforts to use distributed ledger and blockchain in the acquisition process, as there is a lot of talk of the possibilities with those tools.”

Even government and contractor jobs that aren’t as reliant or focused on technology will likely remain – but Soloway noted a lot remains dependent on budgets.

“We’re not seeing anything specific in the way that government is changing its business processes,” Soloway added. “There is a fair amount of experimentation, but no real implementation. What could change is that are major budget cuts, but at this point it is hard to say if we can expect any.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.