For government contracting companies whose employees work in classified spaces, the coronavirus crisis presents special challenges. Many contractors can’t go to work in their usual spaces, and they typically can’t work from home because of the nature of their tasks. Government instruction has been murky thus far.
“There is broad guidance: Do what you can from home,” said Preferred Systems Solutions CEO Randy Morgan. “Where contracts call for work to be done at a government site, they are trying to determine what is mission essential and what is not. It’s all pretty disjointed.”
Contractors nonetheless are finding ways to continue meeting mission requirements this week. They’ve changed up work patterns and boosted work-from-home efforts and they’re working in close cooperation with clients to keep the wheels turning.
“About 99% of my direct labor works in a classified space,” said Paul Doyle, vice president of intelligence solutions at Mission Essential. While most of that work is mission essential to the government, clients still are trying to keep down headcount in those classified spaces, to maintain social distancing while still meeting mission.
Doyle’s team is adjusting accordingly.
“We’ve expanded shifts, we’ve expanded hours,” he said. “If we had 100 people working 9 to 5, now we have 50 of them working 5 a.m. to noon and another 50 working a noon to 7 p.m. shift,” he said.
To make up for the shortened hours on site, he’s finding ways to keep people busy at home.
“Even on classified programs there is some telework that can be done on the unclassified side, training and research programs that can be done remotely,” he said. “We are working with our customers to find as much telework as we can.”
MITRE is taking much the same approach.
“Work continues as needed to complete the sponsor mission,” said Jerry Hogge, the organization’s senior vice president of public sector. That includes some remote work, as well as carefully-orchestrated efforts to enable employees to work safely in classified spaces that are still accessible.
“We’ve been working with site leaders on location-specific guidance,” Hogge said. The company also has taken a leadership role in addressing the ramifications of the situation beyond the contractor community. It recently put out a white paper in support of the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, a multi-industry consortium working to address the crisis.
NT Concepts President and Chief Operating Officer Darin Powers said even with flexing the schedule, many of his contractors still can’t book a full week’s work. Rather than idle those individuals and risk losing them, his company is paying out of its own pocket to keep them engaged.
“Because this talent takes so long to curate, we are aggressively allocating this talent to internal work,” he said. “We are having them help us develop solutions for future new business targets. As a result, they don’t have to take personal time off, and they aren’t getting forced into leave without pay.”
“They have mission relevant knowledge, domain knowledge and they are answering the question: What do we as a company really wish we could do?” he added. “Let’s work on those things now, with the anticipation that it will have value to our clients in the future.”
While funding for these future-looking projects is coming out of the company’s own coffers for now, Powers is banking on these efforts driving business wins in the long term.
“We believe that the government will allow these people to come back, so we anticipate a future return on these ideas,” he said.
Making it work
For Morgan at Preferred Systems Solutions, flexibility is key in these uncertain times.
“We are trying to be as accommodating as possible,” he said. “We’re giving people great flexibility to take paid time off, time to do training where it makes sense and where it puts us in a better position to support the customer in the future.”
At Mission Essential, Doyle said he has been collaborating closely with clients to establish new work patterns — sometimes to mixed results.
“We have had some customers who are very flexible and accommodating,” he said. “They understand the impact this has to our employees and their families and they want to take care of their contractor workforce. Others are a little more risk averse. Because there is so much unknown, they are hesitant to make any decisions in the face of having no clear guidance.”
In those cases, “we try to give the precedent, to give them recommendations,” Doyle said. “We’ll show them a customer who has created a shift schedule and is making sure every employee is still billable for their usual 40 hours a week. We can show them what that path looks like.”
Powers has likewise kept the wheels turning by maintaining open, ongoing conversations with the clients.
“It has been very positive,” he said. “They don’t have all the answers, but they are authentic in telling us what they do know. Sometimes, they simply don’t know, there has not been guidance from above or else there simply is no answer. But the conversations we have had have been productive, and they are continually evolving.”
His main concern right now has to do with contracts drawing to a close. Without new contracts pending, his people risk losing their clearance, which would be bad for the company and ultimately bad for the clients.
“They need to find an administrative way to retain them: Give them a security review and when the contract is ending you don’t immediately offboard their clearance,” Powers said. “Let’s have a call, your security officer and my security office, and let’s find a place to park them so that when they turn the spigot back on, we don’t have all those people sitting in the clearance backlog.”