Friday, April 25, 2008

Cult of the Contractor

Since the middle of May I have been in the club sometimes known as “OGIT” – old guys in ties. I’m a contract consultant to a very large Defense Contractor who in turn has very big projects with a number of Defense and Non-Defense Agencies.

The premise of the founders of the firm was that retired military people make good employees. They show up on time, they dress like you tell them, never complain and bring a wealth of experience, particularly dealing with processes such as intelligence, training, operations, planning, etc.

Unlike most of the other work I’ve done as an independent, here I’m paid by the clock hour – an arrangement I don’t much like. However, I’m in by 7 and out 9 hours later, five days a week. The client government organization is more of an academic and research institution than a military one and the culture clashes are sometimes pretty interesting to watch.

My team and I are housed in windowless cubicles in one of the oldest buildings on the campus. The sort of off white cinder blocks don’t do much for the atmosphere, but the Spartan facilities provide the tools of the trade – computers, Internet and of course printers and copiers.

It’s the first time I’ve worked with ex-military guys about my own age since I was on active duty in 1968 – 1970. In many ways its quite refreshing since we all have similar backgrounds (3 other retired Army, 1 each retired Air Force and State Department) and experiences. All appear to have retired as COL or equivalents and I’m the only Reservist.

The atmosphere is very much heads down with fingers banging away on keyboards all day with a break for lunch and coffee here and there.

We’re clearly a supplemental resource and in the case of the organization we’re supporting, one that is totally different in skills, academic bent and perhaps temperament than the organization’s employees. Unfortunately its very much a project in isolation and as such as required a lot of creation within the bounds of our cubes and the Internet.

Our draft is being pulled together next week in a major reviewing and editing exercise before sending it on its way to be properly formatted.

I’ve learned a number of things in these 6 weeks:

Project based fees suit me better than time, except of course when I’m billing my civilian rates of $250 an hour, and even then I prefer projects.

90 days is too long to be away from home if you don’t have to.

Working with peers is a comfortable experience, but would likely lead to stagnation in the steady state.

My computer literacy is way on the upper end of the scale and it’s good to have a solid grounding in today’s and perhaps tomorrow’s technology.

There is a place for contractors in many environments, but thus far they appear to be truly consultants – specialized talents brought in to complement the existing workforce and for a finite project or period of time.

I’ll give some thought to my perspective for contractors in PSYOP in a subsequent posting.

Enjoy the spring!

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