Going Rate for Pentagon Physicists: $200 an Hour

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U.S. Navy

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory helps the Pentagon with many weapons, including missile-defense programs, like this Standard missile launch from the Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper, which succeeded in destroying its target missile over the Pacific.

Friday’s Pentagon contract announcement of “a five-year, sole source, cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, task order contract” to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., was for an eye-boggling $2.2 billion.

What are we buying here?

“Research and development in the core competency areas approved for JHU/APL by DoD which include: strategic systems test and evaluation; submarine security and survivability; space science and engineering; combat systems and guided missiles; theater air defense and power projection; and information technology (C4ISR/IO); simulation, modeling, and operations analysis.”

Well, now that that’s clear…

If the Pentagon brass [“assistant secretary of the Navy (research development and acquisition) and assistant secretary of defense (research and evaluation)”] like the first five years’ work, the contract can be extended another five years — for a total of $4,904,853,263.

The announcement notes the initial five-year deal funds up to 11,964,743 hours of work. According to Battleland’s steam-powered calculator, that crudely works out to 1,200 people working 2,000 hours a year at $192 an hour. The five-year option would pay for a total of up to 23,929,486 hours, bumping the per-hour cost to $205, a 6% bump.

No one will be making that much money, of course. Much of the funding will go to pay for the overhead – facilities, administrative personnel, floor wax, electricity – needed to keep the physicists humming along. But pouring billions into Laurel (historical footnote: it’s the town where where George Wallace was shot in 1972), 15 miles north of the capital, helps explain the growing wealth of the greater Washington, D.C., region when contrasted with everybody else.

“No funds are guaranteed by the award of this contract,” the announcement says. “This contracting action merely establishes a potential ceiling value.”

A potential Sistine Chapel ceiling value.