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Whenever the government needs a certain kind of item produced, or requires the services of trained professionals in order to carry out certain tasks or accomplishments, government contractors – private companies that specialize in research and development of products made for government purposes, or that provide a specialized labor force for government projects – are employed to achieve the government’s goals. Government contractors are used in a large number of applications. They are employed for science and research purposes, for space exploration, for aviation needs, for security purposes, for infrastructure and technology development, for installation and maintenance of equipment, for temporary and long term staffing needs, for consulting and training needs, and a variety of other purposes. If you spend any amount of time in a government facility, you are inevitably going to run into some kind of product produced or sold by a government contractor, and are extremely likely to encounter one or more employees that work for the government, but are technically employed by a government contractor. In many cases, you would not be able to identify a ‘contract employee’ unless you asked, or scrutinized their security badge.
In terms of product development, government contractors produce a huge array of products that the government requires. These items range from supplies such as bunks for military barracks, to trucks and trailers, to sophisticated computer equipment, to guns, ammunition, and fighter aircraft. Tanks, warships, submarines, and other complicated machinery essential for defense needs are also produced by government contractors. These products are built to exacting government specifications. For instance, whenever the government requires a new aircraft, it will put out a list of specifications to various government contractors that specialize in aerospace endeavors. These companies will then use their research and design teams to come up with a proposal that specifies how an aircraft will be built, and for what cost. The government then selects the contractor that best meets or exceeds the specifications provided for the (usually) lowest cost. In some cases, the government will require bidders that make it to a final selection round to build prototype devices that the government can use for testing purposes. Similar methods are employed with all sorts of products that government agencies use.
Federal and state governments often use contractors in order to roll out changes to their various departments or agencies. This allows governments to cash in on government contractors’ supply chains, which allows better access to products than governments can often procure. In addition, it allows a single entity to be in charge of rolling out equipment related to certain projects. This allows for improved standardization of equipment across a variety of offices and field locations, which ensures that effective training programs can be implemented, allowing employees to have the same user experience regardless of their location. In addition, many government projects require specialized hardware that cannot be purchased from so-called “commodity” vendors. (A commodity vendor is a manufacturer that develops and sells a certain type of good to mass markets, or to specialized industry markets; their products are not built to exact specifications stipulated by a customer.) Hence, government contractors are employed in order to create products that meet exacting standards, and often will never be sold to another government or company.
In addition, government contractors also provide a wealth of essential personnel capabilities to governments. Government agencies of every sort help keep their budget in line by using government contractors to provide personnel, so that the government does not have to employ them directly. There are a variety of reasons why this makes financial sense for governments. Firstly, it absolves governments of dealing with the human resources costs and efforts associated with the hiring, firing, and continue employment of huge amounts of personnel. In addition, it means that the government is not responsible for the benefits packages and pension plans that contract workers receive (these are the responsibility of the company that employs them). Plus, whenever the government requires completion of a project that will only be in effect for a short amount of time – for instance, building a structure, rolling out infrastructure, or completing some other temporary project – then the government does not need to worry about re-allocating personnel for temporary needs. In the end, using contractors saves the government a large amount of time and money when completing most projects. In addition, the use of government contractors for labor sourcing frees the government from the responsibility of training employees to accomplish tasks that are only indirectly or incidentally related to their department or agency’s goals. For instance, it makes very little sense for the military to train personnel to deploy plumbing and sewage systems at their bases – it’s simply not a task that fits very well with the organization’s other goals. In addition, in most situations, it is absurd to send a person through basic training, only to use them as a plumber for the rest of their time as a uniformed service member. As a result, government contract labor makes the most sense for attending to issues like this.
Government contractors also provide security services. For instance, local governments frequently contract with security firms in order to provide security to various government facilities. This might include the physical presence of contract security personnel, or may include the installation of security systems or surveillance technology. Outsourcing security personnel needs is a common way for government agencies and departments to reduce their overhead, given that the costs of training and accounting for the liabilities of having security guards is often quite expensive.
In addition, civilian security contractors are often subcontracted by larger government contractors whenever their personnel or equipment in the field requires protection. These private military contractors specialize in deploying to potentially dangerous areas where government contractors are working, and provide security around operational perimeters, and will often act as escorts for contractor personnel.
Overall, the government contractor sector plays an important role in helping governments get things done efficiently, and creates a huge number of jobs at home and abroad.