The federal government relies on systems engineering and technical assistance (SETA) contractors for a variety of purposes. When you are job searching, you might be unsure what to expect in this role.

What is a SETA Contractor?

In a world of political appointees, deployments, and rotating assignments, SETA support can add some level of consistency to DoD offices. Even when a contract life is at its end and is up for a re-bid, often, employees will switch contractors to stay with the job. SETA efforts are generally long term contracts that provide anything from project management and technical expertise to administrative and computer support. A SETA contractor does not represent the U.S. government, but at the same time, they also have very little interaction with their own employer. SETA contractors give the government the ability to be flexible and adjust with changing needs – something they struggle to do with their own hiring practices.

With SETA contracts in place, federal offices can identify common roles that will always be in need that do not need a government representative to complete, and then they can outsource that work to contractors. Sometimes the work is entry level, and other times, it requires a graduate degree. The system saves the government time and energy, since they are outsourcing everything involved with recruiting and retaining the right talent. .


  1. Contracts are often typically longer (1 year plus many option years). Government tends not to want to redo competition each year (because it’s a lot of work) so chances are good that some or all of the options will be awarded.
  2. You get to work closely with the government (almost like pseudo government). It’s like an inside view of the machine, and your position helps to gain experience and understanding. Depending on your role, you may make a lot of good connections that will pay off later in your career.
  3. When government positions come open, the government may end up trying to direct hire a good SETA worker. If your goal is to be a federal employee, a SETA contract could be your ticket to skipping the normal federal hiring challenges.


  1. You tend not to be connected to your parent company that well. Because of the potential conflict of interest, you need to have nondisclosures in place and in some cases can’t participate in the business development especially for customers you support. Sometimes, this means that if you want to move up, you have to move out from your company.
  2. If the government wants to make a position a government position instead, then the SETA position obviously goes away. There’s always a balance of what is an inherently governmental function and what can be outsourced.
  3. When the contract does go up for re-bid at the end of the option years, you are left with the choice to jump ship to the new contractor or find yourself out of work.

Is the SETA Contractor Life For You?

The SETA contractor life isn’t for everyone, and you could argue that it is better suited for the self-starter individual. With little interaction with your employer and not actually being a federal employee, it can be challenging to navigate self motivation and finding an advocate when needed. It really depends on the office. In some case, SETA contractors are the ones behind the scenes completing the work, bridging the gaps between appointees or unfilled federal positions without an opportunity to actually claim the unfilled position. At times, it can be an unrecognized job. If this is your first contracting job, it’s important to know what you’re in for with the role.

When it comes to finding mentors, you may even want to find someone that is outside your government office or is not part of the decision process for your contract. The key is to not get buried in the work in the government organization without maintaining a view on your personal resume. For some, the SETA contract life provides the perfect career launchpad; whereas, for others, it’s more of just a pit stop. If you’re going to take on a SETA role, find a contractor that has a lot to offer its employees with continuing education benefits, and use that time to grow your resume while you are a little more disconnected from your contractor.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.