Contracting and the Bureaucratic Representation of Minorities and Women: Examining Evidence From Federal Agencies

Date01 September 2020
AuthorLawrence A. Brown,J. Edward Kellough
Published date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17nNaiFfjkh3t8/input 822051ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18822051Review of Public Personnel AdministrationBrown and Kellough
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2020, Vol. 40(3) 447 –467
Contracting and the
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Bureaucratic Representation
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18822051
of Minorities and Women:
Examining Evidence From
Federal Agencies
Lawrence A. Brown II1 and J. Edward Kellough1
This study examines the question of whether the extent of contracting out by U.S.
federal agencies has an impact on the representation of minorities and women
in those agencies. Contracting often results in reductions in force (RIF), which
may occur at the lower and middle levels where there is significant representation
of minorities and women. As a result, agencies that engage in higher levels of
contracting may have lower levels of representation of minorities and women
overall and in selected grade levels, controlling for other known determinants of
minority and female representation. A panel design is employed with data on outside
contracts as a proportion of each agency’s budget from 2009 to 2015. Those data
are matched with a 1-year lag to data on the employment of African Americans,
Hispanics, and women from 2010 to 2016. Findings indicate that contracting is
associated with lower levels of African American, Hispanic, and female employment
in selected grade levels.
diversity, minority employment, employment of women, downsizing, contracting out
The representation of minority group members and women in the public workforce
has been an issue of long-standing importance in public administration in the United
States. A history of discrimination barred minorities and women from public
1University of Georgia, Athens, USA
Corresponding Author:
J. Edward Kellough, Department of Public Administration and Policy, University of Georgia, 204 Baldwin
Hall, Athens, GA 30602, USA.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 40(3)
employment in all but the lowest levels until the 1960s, but since that time, efforts
to promote equal employment opportunity and affirmative action led to improve-
ments in their public employment prospects. A number of scholars have examined
trends in minority and female employment in government over the years, including
Krislov (1967), Rosenbloom (1977), and Kellough (1989 and 2006) and have docu-
mented the progress made. Today, minorities and women are no longer significantly
underrepresented in general within most state government workforces or in federal
employment, but their levels of representation decline as one moves up the hierar-
chy. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reported that, as of March
2018, women held 43.7% of all federal civilian jobs whereas minorities held 37.2%
(U.S. OPM, 2018). Within the senior executive service (SES), however, women held
only 34.0% of the positions whereas minorities held 21.0%, and there is consider-
able variation in minority and female representation across different government
organizations (U.S. OPM, 2018).
Multiple studies have documented the importance of minority and female employ-
ment in the public bureaucracy by demonstrating the positive impact of the presence
of minority and female workers on the representation of interests of those groups in
the bureaucratic policy process (see, for example, Atkins & Wilkins, 2013; Dolan,
2000, 2002; Hindera 1993a, 1993b; Keiser, Wilkins, Meier, & Holland, 2002; Meier,
1993a, 1993b; Nicholson-Crotty, Grissom, Nicholson-Crotty, & Redding, 2016;
Riccucci, Van Ryzin, & Li, 2016; Selden, 1997a, 1997b; Selden, Brudney, &
Kellough, 1998; Wilkins & Keiser, 2006). Other work has identified determinants of
minority and female employment across federal government agencies and state gov-
ernments (e.g., Cornwell & Kellough, 1994; Kellough, 1990; Llorens, Wenger, &
Kellough, 2008). To date, however, there have been few examinations of the extent
to which government outsourcing or contracting out may affect the employment of
minorities and women. This is the central research question addressed here.
Government has always entered into contracts for the provision of selected services,
but the scope and magnitude of government contracting in the United States have
grown significantly in the past 30 years (Kettl & Fesler, 2005; Pollitt & Bouckaert,
2011). Increasingly, services ranging from routine maintenance to record keeping
and accounting that had once been performed by public employees are provided
under contract by private firms. The question is whether this growth in contracting
has been detrimental to minority and female employment.
Contracting will often eliminate specific jobs or work categories in government and
as a result lead to reductions in force (RIF). In fact, such reductions in the scope of
government may be a motivation for contracting. For some observers, contracting or
privatization is desirable because it moves public sector jobs to the private sector,
where, it is assumed, competitive processes can lead to greater efficiency (see, for
example, Savas, 1987, 2000). As increasing numbers of administrative and clerical
jobs are outsourced, questions arise regarding the impact such a policy has on the
employment of minorities and women. Minority group members and women are still
overrepresented among employees with less seniority, and once positions have been
targeted for elimination, employees’ retention rights are determined in part by their

Brown and Kellough
length of service. A study by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) in the early
1990s found RIF at three Defense Department installations had adverse effects on
women and minority civilian employees. The GAO found that minority group mem-
bers were dismissed in disproportionately large numbers at all three of the locations
studied, and women were dismissed in disproportionately large numbers at two of the
three installations examined (U.S. GAO, 1994).
When downsizing is accomplished through policies offering incentives for volun-
tary retirement or early separation, however, there is likely to be no negative impact on
minority or female employment (U.S. GAO, 1994). In fact, RIF achieved through
these mechanisms lead to significant numbers of White males leaving the public work-
force, which may prove beneficial to the employment of minorities and women. A
GAO report from 1997 on an internal downsizing effort at that organization found
such an effect. Because employment reductions at the GAO were achieved through
employee buyouts and early retirement incentives, there was no negative impact on the
employment of minorities and women, even though field offices were closed and the
number of administrative, technical, and support positions were reduced (U.S. GAO,
1997). The use of these incentives is usually not possible, though, when positions are
lost as a result of outsourcing.
In short, the impact on the public employment of minorities and women caused by
the loss of public jobs can vary depending on the types of positions eliminated and the
manner in which those reductions are accomplished. It is certainly the case that con-
tracting out, or competitive outsourcing, for the delivery of services is not the only
cause for RIF in government, but the increasing reliance on the private sector to pro-
vide, under contract, services formally provided by public employees should be exam-
ined to determine whether such policies are neutral with regard to the employment of
women and minorities.
A Look at Earlier Research
Surprisingly, research on the impact of contracting out on minority and female rep-
resentation in the public sector is relatively sparse. In addition, as we will see, most
of the scholarship that does exist on this issue is focused primarily on local govern-
ments, and the consistent finding is that there are significant negative effects on
female and minority public employment. In brief, research on local governments,
some of which is decades old, shows that public employees from these groups suf-
fer disproportionate and substantial job losses as a consequence of contracting out.
One of the earliest of these studies is by Robert Suggs (1989) who, at the time, was
at the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington D.C., a national nonprofit
institute focused on policy issues of concern to African Americans. Suggs exam-
ined municipal employment trends in 10 geographically diverse cities in the United
States with populations of 50,000 or more people and in which minorities com-
prised at least 20% of the population. Data were collected for the years 1981
through 1983. Generally, Suggs found that,

Review of Public Personnel Administration 40(3)
. . . contraction in the absolute size of the municipal workforce produced a serious loss of
jobs, earnings, or benefits among workers in lower-ranking service and maintenance
positions where the bulk of minorities work and where comparable private-sector jobs
are difficult to find. (Suggs, 1989, p. xv)
Suggs cites the example of the city of Phoenix, Arizona, where “in the privatization
of one municipal program, minorities suffered 88 percent of the job losses” (Suggs,
1989, p. xv). Suggs found that displaced minorities may gain employment in pri-
vate-sector firms holding government contracts,...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT