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Everybody Drops

·4 mins

“Everyone fights, no one quits” #

I thought for a while about what the first posts should be and had a few ideas which seemed worthwhile but decided that I needed to use these early posts to outline ideals around mission and culture. The goal of doing so is that people understand what they are getting into when they work with us but also so we can recruit and retain people who have similar core values and believe in the mission.

Based on observations of how large organizations function in America, it appears that many start lean but steadily accumulate layers upon layers of middle management and “leadership” who are incapable of doing work but collect significant salaries directing or criticizing people below them. Oftentimes information and bureaucracy are these people’s weapons as they keep those below them in the dark about facts and circumstances in order to ensure their position in the organization remains secure.

There are many negatives that result from this but two of the key ones are that the executives at the top become more and more disconnected from the realities of life on the front lines, and the business expenses continue to go up. In the public sector this is especially concerning since this increase in cost isn’t passed on to customers who can directly accept the increased costs (such as paying more for brand name products when a generic version is readily available). Instead these increases in costs are born by the American people as a whole and they often have a limited ability to choose a lower cost alternative. This further increases inequity in the current system and reduces democratic voices which are historically disadvantaged, compounding the problem.

Focusing specifically on the federal contracting space, the dynamics at play have a variety of negative outcomes and one of the most significant is the dramatic increase in costs being passed onto Americans in order to accomplish an agency’s mission. One clear example is that the federal acquisition regulations (FAR) define General and Administrative (G&A) costs, differentiating them from Overhead costs and there are already plenty of detailed explanations of the differences but all of these costs tend to go up significantly as contracting firms get bigger and the price of delivering results and the customer often does not proportionally benefit from the increases.

In the federal contracting space, this is especially critical because taxpayer’s money is being spent and - speaking for myself - I would be really unhappy if I found out that taxes are funding executives’ private flights, lavish compensation packages, or sometimes blatant fraud. The latter, unfortunately, might be a little too common since “During the five year period from 2013-2017, there were 1,059 criminal cases of defense contracting fraud resulting in the conviction of 1,087 defendants, including 409 businesses” according to a report to congress. Booz Allen recently settled with the federal government and paid back over $300 million rather then continuing to litigate (notably admitted no wrongdoing and continues to win federal contracts).

Set against this backdrop is our first key belief: everybody drops. This phrase is used to describe the concept in the book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein,

“in the Mobile Infantry, everybody drops and everybody fights.”

Our chapter will not have executives who are disconnected and don’t contribute to the mission and we will accomplish this by taking lessons learned from combat arms and organizations who intentionally avoid high growth models.

When I was in the Infantry, there were plenty of additional duties that needed to be accomplished such as carrying a radio, cooking food, giving haircuts, etc. But people couldn’t be dedicated to all of them so they were spread around according to natural aptitudes so that they could accomplish the mission. In other scenarios, the military uses B-billets to rotate people from their real job - such as a machine gunner - and temporarily serve as a full time instructor to train others and create a new generation of skilled Marines. This ensures that the instructors are true subject matter experts but it also ensures that they get a break from an exhausting job.

I believe this change in approach is needed for the public sector since contracting companies should exist to serve the government’s goals and the American people… not to enrich a few people at the expense of taxpayers.