Why do the armed forces have civilian contractors?

Is it because there is a shortage of folks in the service, or people in the service just can’t do the job that the contractors are doing?

WAG here, but perhaps the need for “FILL IN THE BLANK OCCUPATION” is only temporary, and intermittent. In such a case, it would be inefficient to have 1000 fulltime let’s say… Java Programmers for a 6-month Army crunch Java development situation, and then re-deploying those 1000 Java Programmers as riflemen or whatever. Much quicker and cheaper to just hire outsiders.
Bad example, but hey…

Not bad at all Jonathan, I didn’t think of it like that.

There are a number of reasons. First, there probably aren’t enough service people available. Second, civil service jobs (the other major group that works on DoD projects) are expensive to fill, due to their benefit and job security requirements. Contractors fill the remaining requirement for vetted, qualified personnel, and, while they are expensive to hire, they are also easy to downsize if need be.

It’s not just contractors. The services employ a wide variety of civilian full time employees, for a variety of reasons. For example, in the Coast Guard (which will be a civilian organization in the near future), many of the base galleys employ civy staff, overseen by one or two active duty folks. SAR controller jobs, typically E-6/E7 jobs are starting to shift to full time civy employees (GS12 I believe). This is a good thing, as SAR controllers should have intimate local/historical knowledge of the area they work, that simply gets lost every 2 to 4 years when you transfer active duty types.

In my office (marine inspections), we have 2 civy GS12’s who do the exact same jobs as their active duty counterparts, but the local/historical knowledge they develop is quite valuable.

IIRC, all the services employ civy admin types, although I don’t know the reason why.

There’s a reason the US government is the largest employer in the world!

All of the services employ government civilians, and civilian contractors, for one reason only: to save money.

Active duty service personnel, primarily due to the costs of their benefits and training, are very expensive.

Because these days, everyone is a temp.

What robby said. I’m a contractor for the DoD and the ONLY reason what I do was contracted out (it was Air Force ran 6 years ago) was because its cheaper. They had 40 Airman in the shop, plus all the extras those 40 need up the chain of command. And they left every 2 or 3 years, so you had to train the new guys again. We now have 10 in the shop and the company with the contract pays for all the overhead. Sure we make 2 and 3 times what the Airmen did, but there are 1/4 of us and we don’t use up base resources or need to get trained every couple of years.

Agree with dead0man. I’m a CS, but also work with plenty of contractors. The military turnover is just too high (i.e. change of duty station, section, etc.) IMO to train the highly technical, specialized stuff that some aspects of the government needs. In our section, we have 6 civil servants, and about 10-12 military. We are up to our eyes in training right now, and it seems everytime we get someone trained (6-8 months or so), a lot of times we lose them (the military), meaning a lot of that training time and experience they attained, seems to be lost.

Civilians and contractors provide a little bit of steadyness (not the word I’m looking for, but it works :)).

Again this is nothing new. When I was in Viet Nam during '71 and '72. All of the sheet metal men in my helicopter company were civilians. They got the same benefits to their income as we did.

Another factor might be in finding enough specialized professionals willing to join the services. The military has need of physicists, for instance (for the extreme example, see the Manhattan Project), but there are few enough physicists in the country that it’d be very difficult to get enough physicists to sign up for service. A great many more, though, are willing to contract for the military.