[ale] Worst contract job

JEFFREY LIGHTNER jc.lightner at comcast.net
Fri Apr 30 16:00:42 EDT 2021

After being laid off last April I finally got a couple of offers including one that I preferred due to its out of town location near where I have family so chose that one.   The first sign of trouble was that I was supposed to start the last week of July but they changed it to first week of August.   

Also I had to do security screening with the contract agency then again with the Federal agency.  I did the former before being offered the job and the latter after the they offered it.  I had to go on site out of state to turn in paper work and get my badge (although they weren't allowing anyone to work on site yet).   All of that got me to the point where I could login to a virtual desktop from home (on contractor's laptop) but not into any of the UNIX/Linux systems.  

The login to UNIX/Linux required me to have full Federal security clearance (not just the specific agency clearance I'd already done).  I filled out forms with my life history including my travels over the last 10 years and many people including family (dead and alive), neighbors, co-workers and friends.  I submitted all that around that first week of August.

The next sign of trouble was when my niece informed me the Federal agency's use of contractors was in the local news where she lived.  On looking that up I found that unbeknownst to me they'd actually laid off or were in the process of laying off all their regular staff and outsourcing to 4 separate contracting organizations.  The equivalent of a union got Trump's ear and he took action including firing a couple of board members and threatening to fire more.   The Federal agency rescinded 3 of the 4 organizations' contracts because they were not U.S. owned.   My organization said they terminated our 3 year engagement but were working on getting a 3 month one in place with the expectation it would be renewed.

They did pay me for that and the first 3 month got signed then a nail biter extension for the next 3, then another.   However for more than 6 months I was unable to even get a status on the Federal clearance.  I've often said they should have been able to either grant the clearance or arrest me if not in that amount of time.  :-)

In the middle of all that they'd done crazy things like terminating all H1B visa staff even in departments that ONLY had H1B with a 1 week notice.   They'd also begun hiring back the full time staff they'd laid off (if they wanted to come back) and were also hiring other people to fill positions we contractors were in (i.e. not offering to convert us but instead doing new hires).

There came a time they told us the UNIX/Linux team was fully staffed so our agency moved us to support of a  Linux based appliance there.   They claimed they would have more work for us  like that but at the end of 6 months I decided it was pointless to hang on given the lack of Federal clearance AND the fact I was no longer on the UNIX/Linux team.  I also thought it likely they really wouldn't be able to keep us on much longer.   I left at the start of February.  My last week they hired a full time employee to work on the appliance so I decided it was good I'd turned in my notice.  One of the other UNIX/Linux contractors who'd gone to that appliance support told me recently he and the other remaining one had been told April 30 would be the end of their contracts.   

For that guy and me, other than being out of a job, it isn't that big a deal since we'd been working remotely from Atlanta.  However, the 3rd guy had moved to the location from Michigan at the start.   He and the 2nd guy did have their clearances so I'd hoped they'd get permanent jobs (the agency told us all early on they'd waive the fee) but they didn't.

Getting paid for doing almost nothing sounds like fun but it really does wear on one to login and wait for others to ask for help or show you what they're doing.  It also makes one put all plans on hold (such as moving there as I'd originally intended) because you don't know what is going to happen.

I don't really blame the contract agency for all this but thought it was interesting enough to share.

A few cautionary notes on contracting:
1) When you negotiate rate with an agency be sure to have them give you paid vacation and holiday time.  It isn't a default and if you accept the rate first they'll want you to reduce it to pay for that.
2) Try to find out what holidays/shutdowns the client has and either get those as paid in your contract OR understand they'll be unpaid days off for you.  Years ago I worked at a client that did a full 1 week shutdown every Christmas so I had an unpaid vacation that week.  On this most recent one I had unpaid holidays such as Columbus Day and Veterans Day.  
3) Create a separate bank account just for direct deposit from the contract agency.   Do NOT let it do overdraft protection against any other account.  Most direct deposit forms allow them to take money from your account as well as to make deposits (ostensibly for corrections) and none I've seen have expiration dates.
I heard a story years ago when I'd done contracting before where a guy supposedly had been getting regular direct deposits while he worked for an agency.   However, when he quit, that agency began taking back all the money they'd ever deposited on the excuse he hadn't turned in time sheets.
4) Be prepared to pay 100% for any insurance.   Many agencies offer tax deferred plans which is good but unlike most employers they don't pay any part of the premium for you.   Any rate you negotiate should be bumped up to include you paying this expense.

> On 04/29/2021 11:49 AM Scott McBrien via Ale <ale at ale.org> wrote:
> Thankfully this did not happen to me, but to my cousin.  He was working on a federal contract as a systems administrator. When the contract was up for renewal, it was awarded to a new firm who’s bid came in substantially less than the original contract holder.  
> It is common in that space, for service continuity, for the old contractor to allow their staff (a hundred or so people in this case) to be hired on by the new contractor.  When offers came out, it was a 30% reduction in pay. Guess we know how they were going to make money on that lower contract bid!
> My cousin signed on with the new firm, but quit and moved on to a new employer in about 6 weeks.  I got the impression that was true for most of the people that worked on this particular contract.
> -STM
> > On Apr 29, 2021, at 11:04 AM, Jim Kinney via Ale <ale at ale.org> wrote:
> > 
> > We all know the horror stories. Contract looks great but instantly goes sideways, pm is a jerk/idiot/crook/other, customer asked for X but demands X^n effort where n >>1 but pay rate says n ==1, new contractor offers $X then comes back in a few months with the "we need to cut costs on this project and everyone is getting a 20% pay cut if they want to keep their job" then you find out they totally underbid and always had plans to backfill your seat with 1/2 pay replacement.
> > 
> > You know, work life. Describe your nightmares. Use names so we can all avoid the bottom feeders.
> > -- 
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