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Why not-for-profit technical work is good for America

I've had the privilege of working for a not-for-profit technical company for nearly eight years.  Companies like Noblis, MITRE, Rand, RTI International, SRI, and the Institute for Defense Analyses are all examples of technology companies chartered to work in the public interest on a not-for-profit basis.

Some might suggest that for-profit business is more American.

Equivocally, I would disagree.

For-profit companies have a different risk profile, that can be at once a feast, later a famine.  My friends in for-profit companies have been hired at slightly greater salaries and given bonuses, then laid off in hard times like a fair-weather friend, sometimes for a long time.

For-profit companies also are legally beholden to maximize profits for their private shareholders, and as such, may find it difficult to remain objective about the value of their products and services when communincating with the general public.  A corporate officer from a for-profit health insurance provider, for example, could be sued by shareholders for expressing an opinion that for-profit health insurance may not be in the best interest of consumers.  In a wide variety of circumstances, for-profit companies may also not be able to directly engage in public service without conflicting their profit interest.  For-profit companies can benefit America, by making their private American shareholders more wealthy.  But that's not the 'public'.

When I do my science and technology work, I tell the story of my employer's public service and not-for-profit status.  I am continually encouraged and amazed at how much access and cooperation this creates, even and especially from for-profit entities.  I can get jobs done that nobody working for-profit can do.  I especially like it that my job is to be unbiased.

I would like to see more employment opportunities of this kind emerging.  It would benefit not only Americans, but America.

The author's affiliation with The MITRE Corporation is provided for identification purposes only, and is not intended to convey or imply MITRE's concurrence with, or support for, the positions, opinions or viewpoints expressed by the author.

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