Realism about Making a Living as a Contractor

Hi, there. This is a post for anyone who is contracting as a BI and NOT relying on secondary income (such as military retirement) to get by. IOW, anyone who supports themselves as a contract BI.

I’m a contract investigator (not an employee) for a gov’t contractor, and I’ve been in the field for four months. This is a career switch for me, and I absolutely love the work. My CL is fantastic, and there is PLENTY of work in my area. My problem is that the re-opens I get are really hindering my productivity. I understand that as a new investigator, this is gonna happen, and I am happy to learn the lessons and pay my dues. That means I do rework without compensation.

But I find that I have to watch the reviewers because they either (a) don’t know coverage as well as I do, or (b) don’t carefully review the case papers and the ROIs before they re-open me. All in all, if I make a mistake, it’s fair that I get penalized. But if THEY make a mistake, I get penalized in the time it takes me to educate the reviewer on coverage or the details of the case.

ANYWAY, my questions are these: (a) Will I get fewer refiles (re-opens) as I get more experienced, and (b) if this is my only income, is it realistic to expect to make $60-$70k per year (my requirement and goal) before taxes, etc., without working more than 40-50 hours per week? And © are some contractors less ridiculous about their refiles than mine is? (I’ve been told the contractor I work for “loves their re-opens,” which implies that others are more balanced about them, I guess.

Thank you!

Not 1099, am FTE. But I have colleagues who are former 1099.

A. You’ll learn to avoid RZ’s in due time. But they won’t ever stop due to subjectivity, human error, and ever changing rules

B. Likely not realistic as you’re inexperienced and rates are… not good and have remained unchanged for years. That’s generally the high end for a top performer with a few years of experience. 1099 on the OPM contract isn’t favorable if you’re not in a high volume, tight zone. Get on another contract when you have more experience.

C. Yes and no - you’ll find each company has their own “RZ culture.” Some more bearable than others.

thanks, datesnotrecalled. I appreciate the honesty! Looking forward to seeing what others say, too.

Full time Investigator here.

A) As you know by now, RZ’s are subjective. What one reviewer will RZ you for, another will not. Your quality will improve over time. You will have good months and not so good months. This goes for everyone, even the most seasoned investigators. Be sure and treat RZ’s as priority and just plan to carve out a block of time during your day where you focus on RZ’s when you have them.

B) As far as making 60-70, you will need to look at your employer’s promotion ladder(level 2,3,4 and so on) as i’m sure your at level 1. Keep in mind that with each promotion comes more production or output which could lead to more RZ’s as you rush to put out more.

C) I can’t say if some contractors are less ridiculous with RZ’s than others as I have not jumped around like some folks. It has to be “ridiculous” across the board with the contractors because the finished product (ROI) has to be “perfect”(subjective), before being sent to customer(OPM or NBIB). You just need to get used to over reporting because its like thats just about what it takes to get less RZ’s.

You have the right frame of mind about questioning the reviewers. You have to pick apart every RZ because sometimes they can be wrong.

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A. Yes you will have less RZ the longer on the job but they never go away,

B. For a 1099 to make 70k annually working 40 hour weeks the following needs to happen. This is assuming you make $225/TESI.
The entire TESI should take no longer than 6 hours and 45 minutes. This includes requesting cases, briefing, printing, making contact and scheduling, finding an interview space,driving to and from the interview, conducting the TESI, typing, case messaging, taking care of the RZ, scheduling any additional sources records, both daily and monthly manifesting, and invoicing the prime contractor to get paid.

The 6:45/TESI does not include any time spent working on the business such as setting up technology and related issues, vehicle maintenance, annual security training, and let’s not forget staying current on ever changing NBIB requirements. This is a tall order that is not realistic unless you live next door to the pentagon. Believe me I tried multiple times to make it work and it doesn’t. If you have no other income like retirement my recommendation is to get on as a full timer ASAP. At least as a FT your mileage is reimbursed, you get SCA money, phone is paid for, and get at least 4 weeks off a year. You get none of that as a 1099.

My other advice is just do whatever the reviewers ask for. It does not pay, literally, to educate them or argue your point. Just do it and move on. They do not pay you to train reviewers so don’t. It’s more frustrating anyway. Let the FT deal with it and over time the reviewers get better.

C. If you decide to stay a 1099, which is not a smart choice, contract with another prime or one of their sub primes. You have KGS, SCIS, ISN, 1Force(sub for KGS) and CACI does not have 1099 as they utilize PT. Just apply for a FT position with your current and if they have nothing go to the other primes. Trust me. You will find that each contractor review department is different. I think each contractor is only as good as it’s trainibg department

Don’t let them take advantage of you and good luck!

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Thanks cannotrecall and discrepant. I really appreciate the honesty and the great advice. I appreciate it.

I forgot to add that to make 70k you would need to do 311 TESI’s annually with each taking no longer than 6:45 to complete all the related case work responsibilities. That would give you 70k for 2080 hours or 40 hours/week for 52 weeks.

Reviewer here that came from the field as a contractor so I understand your pain. Let me first state that we want you to succeed just as much as you do. It makes our job SO much easier when we get a well written report and do not have to refile.

That being said, I refile about 90% of the reports I review. Most of them are from new investigators, but even seasoned investigators make mistakes or forget to schedule things out. I promise that we are just as frustrated as you with refiles. I fix a lot of stuff myself when I can. I’ll call an FI and try to resolve it if I can, but modifying a report from a reviewer’s side is way more complex that you just retransmitting.

We also schedule items out if we see they are needed, but we can only do that if we have all the information needed to do so. I cannot call the subject or source and get an address and phone number so if that’s missing, I can’t do it.

The most common refile reasons are for issue resolution and not scheduling out activities or sources or not proving leads. As the ESI investigator, you are the link to the subject and the head of the case. You should be asking for leads until they are blue in the face and then say, “Okay, who else?” Pick their brain. Give them homework to get names, phone numbers, and addresses and to let these people know someone will be contacting them and how important it is to them to respond when they do.

Disclaim, disclaim, disclaim. If the subject provided 2 leads for a residence but couldn’t come up with any more, report that he has no other leads for (activity).

If there is an issue on a case, make sure that you get all the details about it from the subject and report everything you talked about with them. I tell FI’s all the time that issues are a square peg in a round hole and while there are standard issue resolution questions to go over, you can’t always limit your questions. I once had an FI very upset with me because I refilled her to ask for more details about an arrest because the report left many questions unresolved. She felt that she didn’t need to report what I wanted because it wasn’t a usual question she asked. It’s your responsibility to provide a clear picture of the subject and details of their background. The people who will be making adjudicative decisions are deciding the future of these people’s lives based on what you show them. It’s our duty to them to to make sure they see the subject for who they are, good or bad.

I can come back to this and add more, but for now I just remind you that we really are a team, working on the same goal. There are good reviewers and there are not so good reviewers out there, same as in the field. There’s a LOT of new people on both sides still learning. We need to be kind to each other and work on the relationship between the field and review.

Good luck out there. It’ll get easier.

(Replied by phone without proofreading)

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There’s something seriously wrong with the review process if you are reopening 90% of reports. The review process in my opinion is way too scrupulous and challenging for the field nowadays. I’m not saying we should ever… EVER sacrifice sufficient issue resolution or coverage in a report but there are so many nit picky things I won’t even begin to enumerate them all. It’s turned into a nit picky process and quite frankly I don’t believe the reviewer and investigator relationship will get any better or more harmonious or unified. You are speaking of a utopian situation of unity in the field and review with unicorns, lolly pops, and gum drops. The reviewers job is to find something wrong with the Investigators report. That is what they are paid to do. They are there to ensure it meets quality standards no matter how nonsensical those standards are to anyone. Reviewers are going over the report with a fine tooth comb. Investigators cannot retain the type of knowledge they need to do the job with any high level of quality due to the complexity of the job. It’s impossible. For that reason there are high levels of reopens but 90% is a high number that just goes to explain a lot to me. I speak from 15 years of experience as an Investigator…I get reopened on more than 50 to 60% of my reports especially in the last 3 to 5 years. It’s so deflating. No matter how many times you proofread or try to complete that perfect report, a reviewer can reopen that report for any reason due to their subjectivity and personal preferences with little basis for following policy and procedure.

And as far as reviewers working with Investigators…doesn’t happen. This week I tried calling a reviewer to have them clarify their reopen request and they never responded to my phone call or voicemail. You are probably thinking that’s an anomaly. Nope…happens over and over and over. It’s a way for reviewers to ignore Investigators. They figure if they don’t return the Investigators call than the Investigator will give up trying to contact them and they’ll end up just correcting whatever is requested to get it off their plate even if the request is wrong. It’s actually really poor professionalism on the reviewers part and a slap in the face of the Investigator.

By the way…The Field Investigator is the most important and crucial position in this whole industry that creates the revenue, closes the cases, and does 80 to 90% of the entire case work from start to finish. Yet with all that said somehow Investigators get treated the worst out of anyone by middle management and contract companies. The FI’s are used, abused, spit out, and they are a cog in a machine. Most CL’s, TL’s, Field Managers, and middle management are absolutely worthless in this industry and their positions and job duties are pointless because all they do is threaten, use, and abuse the field investigator position.

I’m not saying a reviewer also doesn’t have a difficult position because I know they do but what you are asking Investigators to do is not as reasonable as you think with ACD and production metrics hanging over the FI. These contractor companies cannot have it all. You cannot have timeliness, high quality, and high levels of production at the same time. You can choose from one of those options. If you find an excellent investigator with awesome time management skills and he/she lives three miles from a major DOD or military installation, you might get two of the three completed but rarely do you find an Investigator that can accomplish all three areas of metric performance of quality, timeliness, and production. Hence, why you are seeing issues with quality because Investigators don’t have time to produce high quality when they are pushed to extreme levels of production and timeliness. Even the experienced ones have issues with quality due to the ever changing requirements and complexity of the job.

Best wishes to you in improving the Investigator vs. Reviewer relationship. I wish it was an easy fix. It isn’t. It will always be this way as long as there is this much complexity and Investigators that feel they don’t have enough time to produce a high quality report due to the high levels of production requested of them. In fact, you should have some perspective of this because you said you were once an Investigator. It sounds like you were a Contract Investigator so the production requirements are not a huge factor but at a minimum you know how difficult it is to get a case past review.


The structure and relationship between review and the field is too corporate and influenced by the contract. It doesn’t help that everyone works remotely.

The ideal structure in my opinion should mirror what you’d find in specialized units or law enforcement: one team with FI’s and a handful of analysts under the leadership umbrella of a field office.

I should disclaim (heh) that at my vendor my team has an okay-ish relationship with our reviewers, but there’s no unicorns, lollipops, and cotton candy. It will NEVER be that way - it’s adversarial by design.

The second point is a legitimate inquiry, but the reviewer comes across as snarky assuming you paraphrased correctly. The caveat is T2’s treatment of foreign contacts isn’t the traditional way of thinking for a T3 or T5. I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss specifics on an open forum, but study up on what exactly they’re looking for.

You’re also being pushed to think outside of traditional lines of questioning (although in a snarky confrontational manner) which you should be doing as appropriate and warranted. You want to be a good interviewer? Ask what’s required and then use that head of yours to develop information if appropriate and is reasonable. A good FI isn’t a standard issue drone, contrary to what a certain vendor may want you to think.

Thanks, datesnotrecalled. I do see your point, and I am on a huge learning curve. What I objected to specifically was the reviewer’s assumptions about the Subject: He said he does X, so that means he must also do Y, when he’d given us no reason to think that. Anyway, I agree; best not to delve into details further.

I’ve only been in the field less than a year so I don’t have too much experience to speak from. I get reopened weekly, a couple months ago I had 6 reopens in one day…what a headache. I’ve learned to over report without being too convoluted and I’ve noticed my reopens getting smaller and smaller. I just try to obtain as many leads as possible and as much contact information for those leads as possible, in addition to required issue resolution. If i can get down to less than 5 reopens a month I would be happy but for now I fully expect a report to get opened. If it does it’s usually something small and easy to turn around.