Good, Cheap, On-Site, Pick Two

3rd Apr 2023

The idiom “good, fast, cheap - pick two” is nearly ironclad in government acquisition. We literally track cost, schedule, and performance and talk about "trade space" - a fancy way of saying "we're picking these two". It comes with any kind of purchasing or production, you can typically only optimize for two of the three options, while the third one runs away. There is a related dynamic emerging in the post-COVID new normal of the GOVCON labor market: good, cheap, on-site. Government customers and the professional services companies that supply them are faced with the dilemma of what to prioritize when it comes to hiring: quality personnel, cost effectiveness, or having them work in the office. Government customers are going to have to come to terms with this new normal when acquiring support personnel.

"Why Does an Executive Assistant Cost So Much?"

For those of us who bid on services contract pre-COVID, and are now trying to deliver with the rates we proposed, this is an exemplar: "Why Does an Executive Assistant Cost So Much?" Executive assistants and administrative staff, particularly those who support customers on classified sites often provide the greatest value to customers when they are on-site. In the pre-pandemic world, this was normal. There was often a premium for staff with security clearances, but working on-site was a given. In the new post-pandemic world, on-site seems to be hardest position requirement to negotiate, particularly with administrative staff. 

From an employee perspective, so many administrative jobs moved to remote or optionally remote that it makes very little sense to work on-site. Saving the cost, time, and locality restrictions that come with accepting on-site work, employers have to drastically dial up the compensation package to compensate for the cost. Likewise, the best, most experienced, and most talented staff generally have the best employment options, including high-paying remote positions, so the best people may be out of reach no matter the salary.

If On-Site is #1, What's Your #2?

Getting quality personnel to come into the office is an expensive proposition, less expensive people are inherently less good, so then what's your pick two? There is an expectation of a “presence premium” when it comes to in-office personnel, meaning that they expect higher wages for their willingness to physically come into an office. Finding high-quality personnel who are willing to work in an office can be difficult to begin with, as the higher quality candidates inherently have their pick of the remote jobs, including the higher paying jobs. This presents a difficulty for government customers as they must weigh the cost-benefit of paying the presence premium versus the level of experience, education, and performance they expect. If government customers don’t want to pay a “presence premium” for their personnel, then they need to accept a period of learning and seasoning for their staff, and be aware that once an employee becomes seasoned they may opt for a remote job. There are pros and cons to both sides of this issue, and it is important for government customers to understand the state of the market and the pressures in the industry.

Bottom Line

The dilemma of good, cheap, on-site personnel is one that government customers must face when it comes to acquiring services in the post-COVID market. It is important for government customers to make the right decision for their offices; whether that means paying a presence premium for quality personnel or sacrificing quality for cost savings with on-site personnel. No matter which option they choose, it is important for officials to consider all factors before making a decision.


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