Packet Rat: Rat plots to let no contracting dollars go to waist

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

'I knew I'd been gaining weight,' the Rat sighed, 'but I didn't think it would make the newspapers.'

'What are you talking about?' his wife inquired from across the breakfast table. He showed her The Washington Post headline: 'Federal Work Force is Largest Since 1990.'

'Silly rodent,' Mrs. Rat chided as she poured herself more caffeine. 'They're talking about the size of the federal payroll, not your waistline.'

'Well, considering how thin I've been spread lately, I don't know how anybody reached that conclusion,' the whiskered one griped. 'I've been doing so much overtime, I swear I met myself leaving the office yesterday.'

'They must have counted you twice then,' his spouse replied.

'That's it!' the Rat cried in a burst of expanded awareness. 'They must have cloned me while I wasn't looking. That would account for all the vacation time I've accrued this year.'

The Post article, based on research by the Brookings Institution's Center for Public Service, counted heads of contractors and civil servants. The latter group was 1.7 million'far fewer than in 1990, when it was 2.2 million.

In contrast, the rapidly growing band of contractors has swelled the total federal work force to 12.1 million. That's up by 15 percent since the last count in 1999.

A million new contractors and grantees have started working for the government in the last three years, more than half of them in the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

Fortunately, the White House mandate for competitive sourcing hadn't affected the Rat's network operations staff. No contractor would be willing to work as cheaply as his faithful acolytes do. In fact, they yearn for an outsourcing deal so they can go to work for a contractor at the same desk and get a raise, too.

But certain tasks fall outside the range of skills that the Rat has managed to teach his ragtag band'for example, certain software integration tasks. And the bare-tailed one's agency is having a hard time getting money for contractors at all, except for projects he's managed to varnish with the sheen of national security.

'It's the trickle-down theory of staffing,' the Rat explained around the coffeemaker at work that morning. 'All we have to do is find a homeland defense requirement for a project, and maybe some of the contracting money will spill out of Tom Ridge's trough on us.'

The wily cyberrodent nodded to a contractor colleague. 'Then maybe we can actually fund all that work we've been asking you to do on our software integration problems.'

'Call it antiterror software integration,' the contractor joked.

'But that would require me to define Microsoft Corp. as a terrorist,' the Rat started to say. Another burst of expanded awareness seized him. 'That's classified, by the way. It doesn't leave this room without proper authorization.'

He began rubbing his forepaws together in glee. 'We'll have more money than we know what to do with, faster than you can say 'software of mass destruction.' '

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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