Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ewwwww....a Contractor!

My name is Bilbo, and I'm a contractor.

This is a term that carries a certain odor these days, largely as a result of the deadly activities of the security contractors (we used to call them mercenaries) employed by the US in Iraq to compensate for the lack of troops. But contractors in general are a fact of life in a government turned upside down in its misguided search for economy. After all, you've got to save money somewhere in the vast Federal budget in order to have the money to pay for all the stupid pork-barrel projects our Senators and Reprehensives load onto the hapless taxpayers. The system works like this: our elected leaders (Republicans more so than Democrats, but both are guilty) rail that Big Government is evil and needs to be cut back. They buy out, fire, or simply don't replace a large enough number of civil servants to be able to crow that they're finally bringing Big Government under control. But because the amount of work to be done by those civil servants who remain doesn't go down, and unhappy constituents complain that their expected services are no longer being provided, Federal agencies find themselves short-handed and need help ... so they spend money to hire contractors to do the jobs that used to be done by the folks they got rid of to save money in the first place.

Didja follow that?

Now, I must admit to being conflicted on this issue because I am, in fact, a contractor. When I retired from the Air Force in 1996, I was hired by a company to fill a position on the Air Staff in the Pentagon. I am still doing the same job today (although I'm on the third employer, as they tend to buy each other out regularly), and I like to think I'm very good at it. There isn't anyone else who does what I do, which makes me the expert by default. But I'm still a contractor, no matter how much I know and how good I am. My Pentagon access badge is pink in color, to distinguish me at a glance from Federal employees, whose badges are white. I'm excluded from some meetings because of the perception that I might misuse the information to which I am exposed for the unfair advantage of my company. I'm referred to jocularly as a Beltway Bandit, shamelessly feeding at the public trough. The term contractor covers a multitude of sinners, as it were.

The fact is, though, that your government couldn't function without us. The more Big Government is viewed as the enemy and is cut back for political reasons, the more contractors will need to be hired to do the jobs thus lost. The budget cutters won't tell you this, though. It's easier just to show how well they've cut back on the size of the government, and to castigate the faceless contractors who are running amok.

Back in 1992, William Greider wrote a marvelous book titled Who Will Tell the People: the Betrayal of American Democracy. You won't find the word contractor in this book, because contractors weren't an issue yet back then, but what you will find is an angry, well-argued and -documented tirade against the corruption of our democratic processes that continues to this day. That the book was written in 1992, and that many of the corrupting influences Mr Greider explores are still with us, and worse than before, ought to give us pause. Read this book, get mad, and vote. Hold your elected officials to account. And remember that there are over 300 million Americans, and not all of them care about the same things you do...don't be a person blindly focused on a single issue, no matter how important it is to you. Vote locally, but think nationally.

Next year's presidential election will be the most important one in decades. The fact that we are presented with a slate of candidates of ... well ... modest capabilities is unfortunate, but we are faced with the candidates our corrupted political system has presented to us. We have to do the best with what we have. Learn all you can, cast your vote wisely, and don't disengage once you leave the polling place. If you don't hold your elected officials to account, they'll continue to do what they've done all along, which is ignore you. Don't let it happen.

But what do I know? I'm just a contractor.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

Can I be angry that there's not a candidate that I feel is worthy of the office that they are campaigning for at this point?


None of the above in 2008.

Amanda said...

I didn't realize that 'contractor' was such a dirty word. I do know that you are everywhere though. In the government, in schools, in Fortune 500're a fact of life.

Unknown said...

I am not that familiar with the US internal affairs so can't comment

Serina Hope said...

It is sad that contractors in general have such a bad rep.
I think that specialists are an excellent resourse that we SHOULD utilize.
Now, as far as who to vote for?
I am struggling a bit. I can't wait to see who our options are.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Contractors over here are those companies hire when they don't have enough people to do the job.

danielobvt said...

At least its mostly joking.... I know of one segment of a Federal Agency that the boss wouldn't even allow the contractors to come in the front door... they had to use the side entrance to the building...

Alex said...

Well spoken, sir.

As a contractor myself -- and not the type you'd call to replace your windows or to construct a house -- I can relate to being treated like a second class citizen. I'm identified and discriminated against not just by my badge color, but what it represents. We are hired because the Government cannot function without us; the higher-ups at some level have decided that our existence is necessary, yet we are continually denied information and opportunities that would make our jobs easier and us more effective. It would just be "part of the job" except that our efficiency would benefit the Government at large.

It's a struggle sometimes.

Bilbo said...

Mistress - we're singin' the same tune!

Amanda - sad, but true.

Magus - You're probably better off!

Serina - I'll vote for YOU.

Capt Picard - just my point! No wonder you're a Captain.

Daniel - I don't have it that bad. I'm actually very well treated within my own office and immediate work circle, but the "contractor stench" precedes me whenever I'm in a new venue.

Alex - thanks for the comment: you and I understand each other!

mmafan said...


As a "Fed" for a large agency you have been hearing a lot about lately ;), I have worked with contractors as long as I have been in the government. I and my colleagues have always had an excellent working realtionship with our contractors and I value highly what you bring to the table. We have always included contractors in our meetings and off-site office functions and parties .Frankly, they are as much a colleague and co-worker to me than some feds I have worked with.

I'm sorry you are being treated like a stepchild. Frankly, it does nothing but take the focus off of the mission and erode morale. To be honest, it's downright juvenille. We may get paid by two different people, but as far as I'm concerned, we serve the same flag.

Let's also not forget that contractors died in the line of duty on 9/11 and continue to do so today..Not for the love of money, but love of country.

SciWonk said...

Here is my second-hand experience with contractors. A major science-funding agency hires ONE CONTRACTOR to do all construction for one year on its campus in the DC metropolitan area. Sure, the contractor may do great work for a good price, but once that contract's set, the contractor can charge highway robbery for construction projects on that campus. And they do. And the agency can't get out of the situation because the construction contract is set for a year, and who knows what the behind-the-scenes were in the first place. It's a MAJOR waste of taxpayer dollars. So you may not all be bad, but some of you are indeed very bad.

Bilbo said...

mmafan - thanks for your comment. Your attitude represents that of most of the government folks I deal with directly on a daily basis...sadly, though, there are many others who don't look at us the same way although, truth be told, some of us have earned the negative press. See my new post of November 17th.

SciWonk - I agree with you 100%. The sad fact is that there are always those who give the rest of us a bad name. I appreciate your comment and hope you'll keep visiting!

Two Shorten the Road said...

I'm a contractor too, and I'm really tired of having to be escorted when I go to the bathroom at one agency I support that can't get its security clearance crap together.

To SciWonk, I say: that problem isn't with contractors in general -- it's with the system. And you can't tell me no Fed has ever taken advantage of the system.

Gunfighter said...

I'm a Federal Employee for a thre-letter agency in DC... but I have also been a(sniff) "contractor"

I have seen this issue from both sides, but I have to tell you that the bias runs both ways.

You see, while many Federal agencies may treat some of their contractors with disdain, regular federal employees are treated with greater disdain by that other class of government types. Those known as the "politicals". Those short-term employees who come to Washington when a new President is elected, all ready to set the world on fire with their "new" ideas... while we career civil servants... AND contractors are the people that keep opur government functioning.

Susan Katz Keating said...

(sigh). I feel your pain. But thanks for the laugh! ~Susan

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