Ask a JAG

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By Capt. Sean A. Marvin (U.S. Army)
Stuttgart Law Center
Q: Why are there so many ways in which contractor employees are treated differently than civilian personnel?

A: Although federal employees and contractor employees often collaborate in the same work environment, they work for different employers. Federal employees are expected to serve the best interest of the U.S. taxpayer. Contractor employees work on government projects according to a project’s statement of work, and serve a private entity. A federal employee’s rights and responsibilities derive from federal law, while those of a contractor employee are found in the SoW and his or her contract with the employer.

That difference is critical for agency management and first-line office supervisors. The SoW dictates how contractor personnel are to be evaluated, and which government-provided facilities and services generally available to federal employees are also available to contractors. Further, the contractor is responsible for work schedules, dress codes and reviewing the performance of his or her personnel.

Federal supervisors may monitor contractor work habits and performance, but should address any deficiencies with the contracting officer’s representative. Federal supervisors train and mentor subordinate federal personnel, and may write project-related letters of recommendation for them, but may not do so for contractor personnel. A contractor’s competence in a project is a minimum expectation of the government and the taxpayer. Rewards for exceptional performance should come from the contractor’s employer, not the government. 

This difference in status affects workplace relations in other ways. For example, federal employees must avoid situations that create conflicts of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. Therefore, a federal employee who is negotiating for employment with a contractor may not participate in the administration of that company’s contract while still a federal employee. Likewise, federal employees are generally prohibited from accepting gifts from contractor employees, and contractor personnel should not be solicited to participate in retirement or farewell gifts.

Government personnel must also ensure that information intended only for federal employees is not accidentally shared with contractor personnel. To help guard against that risk, contractor personnel must identify their status when attending meetings, answering the office telephone, using government e-mail, and in other work situations where their status is not already apparent.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.