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I'm interested in how folks would compare working as an 1102 series Contract specialist/CO versus a Contract Administrator for a Contractor. When I first joined the contracting industry roughly 3 years ago (presently work for this contractor), my ultimate goal was to do anything/everything possible to get into the federal government and make a career as a CO. I'm now questioning whether I would even accept a role as a Contract Specialist (let say GS 11), given the front page news the federal workforce has made, coupled with the incredible amount of clerical duties put upon COs, and the possible lack of ability to think outside the box. I'm asking because I really like my position now, lots of finance/accounting/cost reporting/Terms and Conditions, etc, but can't get the CO role out of my mind. What are the risks associated with joining the federal government? My take is that you can always transfer back to private industry if you're unhappy.

Thanks!

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Guest Vern Edwards

It all depends on where you go to work. If you go to work at a place like the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, California, part of the Air Force Space Command http://www.losangeles.af.mil/library/facts...eet.asp?id=5318, you'll be working in an organization with the best Director of Contracts in the U.S. Government, Joy White, http://www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioid=11235 and you might get to work for top notch program office contracting directors like Ann Birbeck (go here and then to page 16 http://www.dau.mil/acqawards/Shared%20Docu...%20Brochure.pdf), and young contracting officers like Mark (Hyun) Choi. Or you might get to work under a top notch leader like Barney Klehman, Acting Director for Acquisition and Director of Contracts at the DOD Missile Defense Agency, http://www.mda.mil/. The folks at those organizations are buying major systems, are doing very challenging work, have first rate minds, know what they are doing, are big on training and mentoring, and are demanding of those who work for them. The contracting and technical people and the contractor personnel are a cut above. And there are other first rate organizations.

The work isn't perfect or easy anywhere, but choose the organization and the job carefully and you'll be challenged and find that being a government CO can be very rewarding. Choose carelessly and you'll end up being very unhappy. Do your homework.

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Runner11 - The risk is not getting a valuable experience. From my own experience!

While during my Federal career I never reached over to the private sector I came very close in a position I held with the SBA. At that time the agency was at its pinnacle and my experiences in working hands on with the private sector gave me new insight into the entire Federal contracting process. Other personal experiences in my career echo Vern's sentiment. Agencies and specific offices of agencies have their own experiences.

In DoD for example you might never be a CO (remember an 1102 is not always warranted) but be trained mightily. On the civilian side you most likely would be warranted and training is almost less than adequate due to limited dollars. New requirements and emphasis of FAI are changing this front on the civilian side.

In DoD and some larger civilian agencies you might be relegated to a certain type of work and possibly a certain contract for long periods, while in others you could be doing soup to nuts. It is likewise for complexity and dollar thresholds.

There is a distinct difference between experiences inside and outside the Beltway as well as with regard to agency organization structure. Reaching back to my experiences I worked for one agency where there were four separate agencies and levels of organization structure leading to the Washington DC approvals, etc. In another there was just one level and I could freely talk to the agency head who at the time had cabinet rank, and I was a GS-11. Then there are the experiences with those entities that are quasi-government corporations or slightly outside the norm - Bonneville Power Administration, USPS, Tennessee River Authority to name just a few.

The front page matters and frustrations you note are present throughout the Government and again better in some and worse in others. I would suggest they should not be a deterrent to considering Federal service. Just do your homework when it comes to saying yes to a position offered you.

Two other thoughts with regard to the risk of experience. The ability to cross back and forth from private to Federal was intentionally enhanced when the Federal retirement system was changed in the early 1980's. The new "FERS" system, which I suggest that you study up on as well, is simply more accommodating to the cross-over. Of similar note is the ability to move from one agency to another for a broad experience (or within even a large entity say Air Force) once you enter the Federal sector. Whether a good analogy or not I considered it to be "the same church just a different pew".

Big decision, yes but I believe in the end you would find it a positive experience even if it is not for you as a full career path.

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Thank you everyone for your thoughts and insight. Part of my motivation to pursue a CO career is because I believe strongly in fiscal responsiblity, getting the government the best value for the $, trying to maximize efficiency, and feeling a sense of duty in helping the government achieve their goals. If this weren't the case, I believe staying in the private sector as a CA would ultimately leave you more career options by potentially making your way into a controller, finance role, etc. This is part of my apprehension of leaving the private sector- not constantly being exposed to the day to day business operations, many of which irrelevant in the federal government. I know everything is going to vary from agency to agency- but I've heard some horror stories of the lack of production in some acquisition shops. But I think with the growing need for acquisition pros in the relatively near future, I think you're bound to be dropped in a challenging environment, just on keeping up with the workload alone.

Anyone else have any pros & cons for 1102 vs. private sector?

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Some thoughts based on the perspective of one who started in the business with five years of USAF base level civil service employment, then went into the private sector, mainly in heavy construction, but also technical services, both domestically and internationally, working federal and commercial prime and subcontracts.

Training - With the government, at least in the better work environments, continuing education and training opportunities are generally greater than in the private sector. I had more formal training in my five years with the government than I had in the next 30+ years.

Experience - Government contracting folks, especially in DoD, often have opportunities for handling larger value contract actions than most in the private sector.

Compensation - Job security, defined benefits such as insurance, and retirement benefits are pretty stable and well-defined in government service, although the regular paycheck may not be as large as in the private sector. Particularly in the construction business, people work from one project to the next, changing locations and employers every few years, seldom long enough to have an "automatic" retirement plan from one's employer.

Interesting that you thought the private sector wold provide opportunities to progress to a controller or finance role. Some companies put contracts under finance. I for one would not want to work there. Financial types, in my experience, tend to have a limited perspective, and lack the broad organizational knowledge and integration skills that the best contracts people have. Other companies have contracts under legal, more in my comfort zone. Understanding how all the moving parts of a business mesh, knowing how to tell the difference between wheels just spinning and gears meshing productively, and being able to help resolve disconnects, are important and satisfying parts of private sector work. Other companies have contracts under legal, more in my comfort zone.

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