Originally on Salient Federal Solutions Blog
Current budget trends indicate the need for creative methods to make best use of shrinking federal coffers. Federal employees are already being asked to do more with less. What agencies require is a more prioritized, cost-effective, and agile workforce with greater privatization to promote competition and innovation. The silver lining is that mission critical services, especially military training, can be cost-effectively provided without any degradation in readiness or quality with no apparent long term consequences.
One of the critical factors in tightening the burgeoning defense budget is to control personnel costs, especially the long-term costs associated with retirement plans that span decades and increase over time through Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs). Contractor-provided services offer the best cost effectiveness and agility to meet mission requirements while reducing total costs. The key here is that contractors can be hired for short periods of time to perform specific services and then released when no longer needed, thus making them far less costly to agencies in the long term.
The DoD has long depended on U.S. defense contractors to provide some level of augmentation and training for its military forces. Although the presence of contractors stateside has ebbed and flowed, contractor presence in combat areas has never been greater. During the past 10 years, contractors have accounted for over half of the U.S. total military force in austere locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. More and more contractor training and services are fulfilling key roles in the defense of our nation.
Undoubtedly, the U.S. military must fight this nation’s wars, but using contractor-provided services for training and sustainment frees up our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen to prepare for the next conflict. Ultimately the Department of Defense really can do more with less, and the net result is improved readiness for our troops.
Within the U.S. Air Force, contractors have long been performing the academic and simulator portion of flight training with the same level of expertise and credibility as uniformed service members. Contract flight instructors even provide the first military flight training Air Force pilots receive. Contractors also perform portions of aircraft maintenance training and other specialty skill training for the enlisted force. Expanding the roles of contract trainers allows uniformed military personnel more time for addressing critical mission-related tasks and thus improves readiness.
Critics will argue that contractors can’t provide the same quality of training as military of government personnel. Having witnessed the full range of training instructors (military, DoD civilian, and contractor) both first and second hand, I can attest without reservation that the quality of the training comes down to the individual providing the training, period. Contract trainers must meet the requisite skills for the job and are often recently-retired military or civilians. In many cases, contractor experience levels are equal to or greater than some government employee experience levels. Therefore, with a high quality workforce, the outlook for success of a contract-driven program will also be high.
Contract trainers bring high motivation levels to the workforce. They must prove their value and worth rapidly or they will find themselves looking for work elsewhere. As contractors want to avoid any negative performance assessments from the U.S. Government, they are motivated to find highly qualified and competent employees to fill positions. As a result, contractor employment practices in some situations can be far more stringent than the U.S. Government. Further, the contract trainer is motivated to prove him/herself for follow-on work opportunities. Contract personnel must adapt and perform at a high level, or they don’t survive.
Simply put, contractors are more cost-effective and equally or more successful than their government or military counterparts. Best of all, they provide agility to the workforce by only being on the payroll as long as their services are needed. By delivering the right people, at the right place, and at the right time, contractors can fulfill government requirements, especially military training, throughout the life of any program and could be the silver bullet to budget woes. Better for less. . . We could all use a shot of that right now.
Scott Seavers, former USAF Colonel and Air Force Security Assistance Training Commander, is a Vice President at Salient Federal Solutions in Fairfax, Virginia.