Sunday, November 21, 2010

Body Shops

This is perhaps a great deal more US centric than the previous posts in this series, but, as the saying goes, the US is the center of the universe, at least for Americans (and if you give Eli the nonsense USAans, Eli will spit back Bundesrepulik Deutscher, etc. at you. We hosied the name fair and square). It turns out that at most US national labs, civil servants are not the majority of the scientists, let alone the staff. That stuff has been contracted out. Later, Rabett Run will discuss the case where lab management has been put out to the highest bidder and pretty much no one works directly for the federal government (most DOE labs, JPL, etc.), but here Eli is talking about how many are hired on contracts with universities and private corporations, but work full time at government facilities alongside civil servants.

The body shop zombies do get paid, but the advantage to the government is that there is no pension or health care liability and job security is a myth. Postdocs most usually fall into this category also, often being paid not by the government but through an eminent organization or university. A principle difference with research faculty is that the zombies most often work on assigned projects under the supervision of civil servants. It is not uncommon (e.g. Eli knows of cases where) the substantial majority of people working at a Federal Lab, under government management, are contractors. One way to spot this is to look at the affiliations of authors publishing from a national lab. The career track then becomes post-doc, zombie, civil servant, with attrition at each step, and, of course, the university gets the off campus F&A (indirect cost) rate.

There are amusing rules, for example, who can use the exercise facility and the day care. Often not the contractors.

1 comment:

badger badger badger said...

I resemble that remark!
On one hand, the lore blames the existence of all us contractors on the Reagan admin shrinking the gummint by outsourcing. So a lot of people where I work have been saving your tax dollars by working for a middleman for three decades. The inc that writes my checks is a ginormous piglet at the federal tit, particularly the DoD. Maybe that's a sort of job security.
OTOH, it lets failed PhDs like me to get paid to do what we still love regardless while maintaining a more-or-less 40 hour workweek. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be successful PhDs.