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Why do governments use consultants when employees are on staff to do the same work?

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Q. Why does our government use so many highly paid consultants when employees are on staff to do the same work? So much information is readily available today that anyone can reasonably make predictions on the success or failure of a proposal.

A. Assistant Brunswick County Manager Steve Stone and City of Wilmington Public Relations Director Malissa Talbert both say cost is an issue when determining whether to hire a consultant. When government entities do hire consultants, it’s because they need the manpower or expertise, and consultants provide the most cost-effective solution.

“The manpower is just not there sometimes,” Stone said. “We may have people on staff who can do the same thing, but in many cases, that person is a manager or someone else who has a lot of operational responsibilities, and we really don’t have a practical way to free them up for their duties.

“In other cases, we truly bring in consultants when we don’t have anyone on staff who has that expertise. In many cases, it’s engineering consultants who have expertise in specific processes that we don’t have [on staff].”

Stone said that while some governmental bodies may hire general consultants to make “global recommendations” on issues such as management, “in the dozen years I’ve been here, Brunswick County has not done that. The consultants we’ve brought in have been for specific duties.”

Talbert agreed.

“We use [consultants] on a limited basis when they have expertise we don’t have in-house, and it’s cheaper to hire them for a short period of time then to hire a full-time employee,” she said.

In other instances, the city hires additional engineering staff on a consulting basis to help complete major projects when the work scope is larger than the full-time staff capacity.

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