by Conor Friedersdorf

A male reader writes:

I am not a government employee - I might as well be, but not for the reasons they think. I work in the federal division of one of the many IT companies in northern Virginia, and people assume that I lead a quiet life because we’re just like the government. This is sort of true: I don’t work mad hours like our teams on commercial contracts. However, we are the focal point of all of our customer’s frustrations of the structural impediments (and peer impediments) of their job, and nothing we do is ever good enough, even if we throw in the occasional bit of scope creep for goodwill purposes. We get a lot accomplished and at, if I may say so, a pretty reasonable price.

However, that’s the rub: reasonable is relative to other contractors, not in-house work. I am part of the hidden civil service, the legions of contractors who bulk out the federal government without showing up in civil service headcount and without - to be perfectly frank - delivering the same work for less than government staff. We might be faster, or more efficient (sometimes, anyway), but we’re not cheaper. Such are the exigencies of national politics though, that it’s easier to have a shadow civil service for 120 - 130% of the cost of the actual civil service, in order to say that the government hasn’t grown.