Tales: What does Bugsy Malone have in Common with Defense Contracting? Part Two

Watch the Company You Keep!

ONE OF THE MOST RECENT COMPANIES I have worked for is a company called Amentum N&E Holdings LLC, based out of Germantown, Maryland. This is a private company, which describes itself online as having a “global government partnership.” If you Google the company, you will not find a wiki page because it’s a relatively new name birth from an older company called AECOM. AECOM started as an oil, construction, and engineering company, tracing its roots to 1910. With years of experience, AECOM successfully won several defense contractors that allowed them to create smaller contracts that eventually led to Amentum. AECOM has links to CACI, URS, GSS, LTD, AC FIRST, and DynCorp. Then in the last four years, this company has broken out on its own and acquired other companies under its umbrella. This blog isn’t here to talk about the company’s history or dive deep into its operations. I want my readers new and old to look at this as an overarching experience that combines what I and so many have endured with an added bit of sardonic gayety.

 

 “Can you pass the test?

I can tell if you’ve got it in you

I’ve trained the best”

I AM SURE YOU ARE WONDERING; WHAT TEST am I talking about? Amentum has its hands in many contracts in several locations in-and-out of the United States of America. I have a few friends who ventured out to several areas to work for this company; some ended up on the Marshall Islands, Kuwait, Qatar, Afghanistan, Europe, and across the United States. Of course, they are never utterly content with the company, but who among us is absolutely happy with what they do for a living?

Instead of questioning why we stay with companies that repeatedly disappoint us, we settle for it because we have been programmed to be thankful to just have a job. Every time we complain in our minds or out loud, there is always a unique feeling that follows that seems to say we should be grateful and to see it as an opportunity. I believe that many corporations that put profit over people tend to rely on our subconscious programming to deter us from realizing that our complaints are valid.  While many might have positive experiences in the defense contracting various sectors. One of the biggest tests is putting up with the extra unwanted frills that accompany this industry. If you can continue to work with a company that has the following characteristics; then the company is very aware that you will comply to all the strange and shady happenings most of the time.

  1. Questionable hiring tactics
  2. Poor management teams
  3. No respect for a proper work-life balance
  4. Not willing to promote the advancement of employees
  5. Hire people with no  direct, personal and professional goals
  6. High turn-over rate

This is only a shortlist of toxic work culture traits. Once a company or department sees that employees are willing to remain employed under these circumstances, they will know that you can pass the test.

For me, passing the test means testing employees for passivity, ensuring they possess an appropriate level of fearfulness and compliance. This comes in various forms, from how contracts are written, who gets hired, and on-the-job reinforcements. Enforcements such as subtly manipulating their processes, staggering how discipline is dished out, carefully keeping chaotic environments shimmering, and then using phrases like “other duties as assigned” and “black-list.” This all amounts to a slow but inevitable decline in confidence; that keeps workers in a constant state of flight or fright.

While other employees heed the unwritten rules. This culture tends to cause workers to cook up inventive ways of skirting the policy. This allows workers to maintain some semblance of control over their lives. The ultimate test is to see how well you can pretend to be compliant even if you are clandestinely engaged in fraud, waste, and abuse. This isn’t a far cry from the days of old school mobsters where complicity, silence, and a childish sense of loyalty were the order of the day.

 

“Can you bob, can you weave

Can you fake, and deceive when you need to?”

 BEING ABLE TO NAVIGATE THE WORLD OF DEFENSE CONTRACTING is essential. The one word that was repeated to me during the first year is network or networking. I was told directly and indirectly that networking is the key for upwards mobility, and it’s all about who you know. I have grown to detest this word for the mere fact that it always implies strategic subterfuge. I have met thousands of people while working in this industry, and I can honestly say that I have only held onto a few as close acquaintances. The reason why I find networking so uncomfortable is the required fakery and deception involved. As a natural-born introvert, particular areas of this industry isn’t for me, and I’m often asked to do the unthinkable to secure favors and employment.

I didn’t like being sexually harassed or used by men and women who distort the word networking for their gain. This has caused me to be slow to connect with and trust others. The word networking and the way it’s used in this industry never sat well with me. I am not too fond of the idea of ingratiating myself with people whom I would never talk to under normal circumstances, being sighted as a priority over hard work, knowledge, and intellect. I have seen many people attempting to please certain groups for the sake of promotions, getting an elusive high-paying contract job, or crossing over into federal jobs. At times defense contracting and the culture it brings is an introvert’s worse nightmare. Outside of the usual ingratiation, I have witnessed female workers submit nude pictures to male hiring managers, co-workers forging official certificates, and various versions of quid pro quo too twisted to list here.

The name of the game is to fake it until you make it! While this is a positive mantra, it has been distorted in a way underpinned by a history of unprofessionalism and constant workplace stress. Such as the stress of being a low-ranking mobster during prohibition. The strain and endless amount of manipulation one need to apply to stay on top leaves a person utterly exhausted and afraid. While this might seem like the bizarre world of grownups, amateurism still runs through the veins of many of these operations, which often leaves me wondering if we are just children pretending to be adults.

 

We’ll pulp him to bits

Then he’ll call it quits for sure …”

FOR SOME, DEFENSE CONTRACTING HAS LEFT THEM BLOODIED AND BURIED, whether it’s from physical injuries or years of mental stress. The few friends who spend years in various corners of the globe away from their family and the comfort they once knew; suffer the most. At the same time, others bring their own kind of suffering onto themselves. Years of working in the same industry can breathe a degree of jadedness and entitlement; that swiftly fool many into believing that their service is necessary. Not only are the employees jaded and entitled, but the corporations that insist on hiring them also possess a similar level of inherent privilege that automatically requires loyalty. The changing landscape of employment has proven both parties disillusioned. As employers no longer form reciprocal relationships based on hard work and commitment, workers are no longer afraid to move to the next best thing.

Sadly, no one wants to own up to the cycle of reciprocal abuse, which leaves employees bitter and flighty, and companies constantly reinvent the wheel to get more for less. While making monsters out of each other in an attempt to force an unnatural process of exchanging time for money. A large majority of us haven’t found a way to turn our passion into wealth, and the redundant rhetoric of “…If I can do it, you can do it too!” has forced us on a hamster wheel towards a warped idea of success. Still, we are slowly learning that no one has the blueprint to success or an absolutely perfect way to live.

We slave away in professions and jobs that do not mean much to us, don’t care for us, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot find moments of happiness while being bitten to a pulp. Surprisingly, many contractors, although they suffer from workplace stress, unlike civilians, are resilient. Sometimes I wonder if this is a survival mechanism from the compound trauma from their time as service members or childhood.

 

“There’s an honour you can earn and defend here

When you do see the crown

You’re a king not a clown

A contender”

AFTER A FEW YEARS OF WORKING AS A DEFENSE CONTRACTOR, many seasoned workers tend to know where they fit and how far they can venture outside of their comfort zone. Some become very rigid, sticking to what they know, while others learn that flexibility is best.  I have met individual defense contractors who love their job and the areas they support, so it’s not all gloom and doom. Some believe there is honor in what they do and feel compiled to serve their country. While others do it for the money while gritting their teeth through each day. There is no real honor in doing any work that you don’t mildly feel satisfied with. I assume that 97% of the world exists in an occupation that doesn’t fulfill them.  Drawing conclusions and meaning while crafting stories of honor to uphold an idea that we can barely stomach. Companies, organizations, and the military all have a mantra, slogans, ethos, taglines, or philosophies that guide the beliefs and principles they want to display to the world. Every institution’s overall goals and purpose are often geared towards inspiring patriotism towards a brand or idea. I used to believe this was only geared towards customers. I now understand that employees play an essential role in these platitudes. Employees have to ingest a certain amount of these ideas until it seems like a spell that influence their behavior or lifestyle that foster flase inspiration to keep workers toiling.

When I think of the film Bugsy Malone and what it has in common with defense contracting.  I see similarities that go pass the idea of mob mentality or the notions that many defense contracting companies are really modern day gangsters fleecing the government and tax payers. The ridiculousness of the film makes minuscule commonalities stand out to me. While the business of war and the military may seem like an adult endeavor, when pairing at it from the inside taking stock of the many human interactions; high school comes to mind. There is a malignant form of arrested development that becomes all too clear the longer you work for bottom of the barrel companies. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the times that we live in or our failure to learn from history. I often sit and laugh at the various theatrics happenings around me, as various entities singular or as a group try to sabotage, micro manage, preform an ego parade, or escape responsibilities. I realize that even in me there are many biases at play sometimes it’s self-serving and other times its selective perception. I am having these experiences from a view point that sometimes doesn’t allow me to understand alternative points. Thought I might struggle to try to see things from the side of these corporations or from the perceptive of other employees I can never understand the obstacles they face unless I tither myself to them.

While it may seem like this blog falls short of telling a complete story. Remember, I did say that no matter how I tackle this topic it will always feel incomplete.

For now this is all I am willing to say.

 

The End!