Swati Arora

Lifestyle - Writer
New Delhi - India

    Green and Grey: A Brief Primer for Military Leaders on Managing Contractors

    March 7, 2017

    Today the military deploys to combat with more contractors than troops. From June 2009 through March 2011 contractors outnumbered troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by a staggering ten-to-one. To put that in perspective, until 1990 relatively little contract support was employed. During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, it rose to one contractor per fifty soldiers, an unprecedented number.

    Christopher Shays, the co-chair for the commission on wartime contracting famously said, “We can’t go to war without contractors and we can’t go to peace without contractors.

    Integrating civilian project management methods with those used by the military has become a requisite skill for professional military leaders. The constraints for the military are quite different from the corporate world. Military objectives are often not measurable in dollars. There are strict rules governing how the military is allowed to manage civilians.

    Military leadership places very little attention on development of management skills. While a civilian program manager might go through months of training and years of experience to obtain project management skills, or the PMP certification, a military leader’s education focuses on leadership and decision-making skills. For a look at what civilian managers go through for training and certification in PMP, check out an online school like simplilearn.com or one of the courses taught at Stanford or Villanova.

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    Here is what you, as a military leader working with contractors, need to know:

    They don’t work for you. Contractors are employees of a military defense corporation, not of the US or NATO or any other military. The corporation as an entity has a contract with you to deliver services, but their employees are not subject to your command authority. A military leader can get himself in serious trouble by trying to manage contractors directly in the same way he manages his soldiers.

    The project will be managed locally by a site lead. This is the person with whom you must deal for all things related to contractors. He or she is the face of the company. If Raytheon has a contract to deliver 40 hours a week of instruction on how to fly a drone and you are in charge of the school, you draw up the training schedule and direct the Raytheon site lead to fill in the schedule with his employees. If you try to schedule the contractors directly, harmless as it seems, you are breaking the law.

    Related to this, a military commander must realize that he or she cannot hire, fire, promote or punish contractors.  A military officer cannot tell a civilian organization who to hire or what to do with their employees. If you have a problem with an individual contractor, you must go through the site lead. Don’t expect to be able to influence the disciplinary or reward system the site lead applies to the employee. You will have to be satisfied with his or her word that he or she has dealt with the matter in accordance with company policy.

    And here lies one of the trickier aspects to managing contractors. Many of the civilians will be “at-will” employees. This means that they can be fired at any time for no reason. If a contractor gives you trouble, you can easily have that person removed without stating the reason. You can have a person fired for no reason, but not for any reason. Military leaders have gotten themselves into trouble by firing a contractor because they had a problem with the contractor’s sex, race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation. These are all federally protected workers’ rights.

    On your side, you should have a trained and certified representative (called the TOR or COR) whose job it is to see that the contract is delivered to standard. The Army created this position in the wake of massive fraud and waste scandals that dogged the US military during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It is the TOR’s job to make sure you get what the taxpayer has bought for you. It is the site lead’s job to deliver it. As much as possible, let those two do their jobs without interference and you will enjoy success. And keep yourself out of trouble.

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