What It’s Like To Work As A Federal Consultant For The U.S. Government

Despite the excellent work of President Trump, the federal government still has a huuuge number of employees, and even more contractors. For the record, I am not talking about military contracting, building the wall, or some of the other gigs that involve doing something useful, but just about regular civilian federal consulting.

I was moving and shutting down my business when I had a buddy who knew my resume turn me on to a consulting gig. The timing worked out and allowed me to jump right in. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, so here is what I wish I’d known beforehand…

The Good

1. The Money Is Good

Edward Snowden was making $122,000 as a consultant when he stole all that classified material. If you can keep a secret, you ought to be worth more. All joking aside, a man with relevant technical skills can easily make $100,000 or more as a consultant.

2. The Work Is Mostly Easy

Government employees sure aren’t killing themselves at work. They prefer to spend their time in diversity classes, at lunch, or otherwise being non-productive. They probably won’t stress you out too bad, either.

3. The Travel Opportunities Are Great

Some gigs have you working at a government office from 8am to 4:30 pm or something like that. Other gigs have you going to different facilities to perform technical work at different times. Those gigs would be just the thing for a single man. Just don’t approach any of the federal women without being pretty slick about it. The penalty for unwanted attention is getting voted off the island! As a contractor, there is no real due process on this.

4. Job Opportunities

The feds often hire from the ranks of contractors. If you want this to be you, figure out who does that hiring and make them your friend. The feds pay well (too well, I believe), and if you have a modest level of competence, you can stand out. That’s what happened to the guy I replaced, and I ended up working directly for him.

The Bad

1. You May Need a Degree, A Clearance, And/Or Live In Or Near Washington, D.C.

Much of this is credential inflation, but most consultant jobs require a bachelor’s degree and many require a master’s degree. If you already have a clearance, you will be at the head of the line for these jobs. Companies hate to sponsor you for a clearance unless they have no choice, as it costs money and takes time. And I can’t take working or living in the DC/MD/VA area, but that is where most of these jobs are.

2. Government Employees

They can test the patience of a saint. We had a system where when you put data in, it emails it to someone to approve it, and then it gets emailed to some other folks once approved. Easy. Simple. You understand it now.

It took me two hours to explain this to two federal geniuses. Two hours of my life. Make sure that you can take 50 weeks a year of this.

3. Idleness

The guy who I replaced quit his fed job in less than six months. It sucked so bad that he was looking for another job after two months. That left me ready to do great things, but there was really nothing to do without him telling me what they wanted. Six months later, they haven’t replaced him.

Each day I sat down at a heavily monitored government computer with nothing much to do. You can’t nap, work on your own projects, or read the paper. It is difficult for me to do nothing all day, though many government employees seem to find it easy. Did I learn all these skills just to sit on my ass, aimlessly reading a government intranet?

4. Mind Numbing, Soul-Killing Atmosphere

Yes, the Priuses with Bernie Sanders bumper stickers will almost certainly outnumber the trucks with NRA stickers. Energy is constantly consumed in showing reverence to Black History Month, Women’s Equality Day, Tranny Awareness Day, or some other such left-wing nonsense. They sure didn’t appreciate the “Fight Crime, Shoot Back” bumper sticker on my truck.

As with all bureaucracies, there is a premium on busywork. Your boss, known as the contracting officer’s representative (COR), will want reports about what you are doing, and it is wise to make these be what they want to hear. This COR will likely be a woman or a minority who has been promoted beyond their abilities.

5. No Guarantee of Employment

Government contracts typically have “task orders” with a year “period of performance” and “option years” for further work. The government will sometimes do a “re-compete,” where they give other firms a chance to bid. That may unexpectedly put you out of a job.

Make sure you understand these dates and how long you will likely be employed before you accept an offer. Have a rapport with your boss in the firm to keep tabs on this. The feds can cut off contract payments as well, and not just during government shut-downs. You want some heads-up on that if you can get it.

If your firm loses the contract, they may keep you “on the bench,” trying to find another contract that you are qualified for. They see what upcoming work they are bidding on, and may keep you around awhile if they think they can use you. However, if your skill set won’t be needed in the near future, then you will probably get a couple weeks’ pay and sent walking.

Interestingly, I have a friend who has worked for the same federal agency for over fifteen years doing the same job, but with six different contractors.  He lost his vacation time and had to transfer his 401(k) each time, but he kept his job.

Summary

Would I recommend this sort of employment? That depends. It has been a good resume builder and good fill-in work between jobs for me. But I just accepted another offer and feel like I just got a good word from the parole board.

Be warned: a man with any hair on his ass will not like working for the feds. If you need a job, it is hard to say no to the pay. Just do not accept the job thinking it is something useful or fulfilling.

If I did not warn you off, Google “federal consulting firms” to start your descent into this special kind of hell. Good luck!

Read More: Do Not Work In A Job That Employs Women

26 thoughts on “What It’s Like To Work As A Federal Consultant For The U.S. Government”

  1. “Edward Snowden was making $122,000 as a consultant when he stole all that classified material.”
    Yep. Was surprised to learn that he only has a GED.

    1. Snowden is a spook from a family of spooks peddling illusions of freedom and “classified leaks” to the plebs.

    2. Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and ALL “truth crusader whistleblowers” are SIMPLE FABRICATIONS.
      Nothing they “reveal” is true or important.
      You live inside a poor-quality TV show.
      -REMEMBER-
      Nothing of consequence will EVER be allowed, given or told to YOU.

  2. I worked 15 years for a contractor – actually 3 different companies that were part of a chain of mergers and buyouts, then was offered a job as a civil servant (doing exactly the same job). With 3 kids, it was a no-brainer – the contractors (not consultants) are in a perpetual “race to the bottom” for benefits to keep labor costs low. Not contractor managers or consultants, though – that’s where the money is. 6 months after I left the company, they cut retirement benefits and upped the employee contributions to health-care insurance. If the economy sucks, you don’t want to be a contractor, because they know they can stick it to you.
    And I’ll vouch for the fact that it can be mind-bogglingly boring. The many positive things I got done were done by going around incompetent managers and ridiculous rules and policies. And then ducking so I wasn’t in the line of fire in case someone found out before success could give a manager ‘bragging rights’. Then I pissed off a very stupid (and incompetent) boss, who benched me. If you’re clever, you can get the agency to pay for you to learn all kinds of useful stuff while you occupy a desk (computer skills, language skills sometimes) – and then jump ship to somewhere that those skills will pay off. Or you learn how to be ROAD – retired on active duty.

    1. “retired on active duty” reminds me of a Dilbert strip in which Wally talks about his “in-cubicle sabbatical”.

  3. “feds pay well”?
    Federal raises are a joke. If you are in the GS system, but are a step 10 or are waiting 3 years for a step increase, you have seen very little movement in your pay since 2010. In my own situation, pay has gone up 5.4% since 2010 due to being on special pay and a step 10 so my pay series doesn’t get the “full” federal raise. Once you are a step 10, the only way to get more money is a promotion (unless you are stuck at the GS-15/14 pay cap), as lower steps have yearly-once every 3 year 3% raises.
    We can’t attract engineers straight out of school for GS-5 or even GS-7 pay. I’d love to move to a pay for performance system, and for professional jobs, bump up the paycap to SES-2 equivalent.

    1. My agency hires fresh-outs off internships and co-ops, and after a year or two, 85% of them are gone because they want to DO something and not have meetings to plan meetings for coming up with a plan to figure out a plan to do something. I was told once that if I hadn’t gotten awards for the way I did things, I’d have been fired – because I ignored all the arcane bureaucratic rules and produced agency-changing results. Most young engineers we see can’t stand the bureaucracy.

    2. I left my IRS job for a CPA firm. I was making 68K and 2 years later am at 100K. Of course the hours now are grueling, but I have a sense of accomplishment.

  4. I was once a consultant for the NYC Department of Education and I can vouch for the mind numbingly boring part. Working for the government can be a great gig if you are able to accept that you will get zero sense of accomplishment and fulfillment from your work life. Some left in utter frustration because of that.
    The most important thing is to make sure nothing of importance actually gets done because that potentially works you out of a job.

  5. Cut 80% of the federal and state government and the US will take yuge steps to a new golden age. The unemployed women can stay at home to raise a family and racial minorities can go back to whatever shitholes their ancestors came from.

  6. Government doesn’t need any employees. The private sector can handle everything. Anyone who thinks otherwise is putting unskilled undeserving women and low iq non white and non black Americans before real Americans.

    1. Sounds good at first, but when you realise the private sector are just greedy cunts, bilking you the tax payer, and not providing a very good or fair service. Would you trust a privatised police force, prison or armed forces?
      Govt employees are far from perfect but have a greater accountability. Why have a user pays system when you are also paying taxes as well? You get arse raped twice.

      1. “Would you trust a privatised police force, prison or armed forces?”
        Yes. Yes I would.
        We all trust private:
        – Doctors
        – Dentists
        – Airlines
        – Hotels
        – Day care centers
        – And on and on
        Private companies get things done. You’ve obviously never owned a business.

        1. Accountability my friend. Private police etc owe their allegiance to their bosses, and perhaps shareholders if the business is a listed company on the stock exchange. Heck it might be cheaper for them to fly in 3rd world trash to do the job and 1/3 the rate of the local guys.
          Not saying private contractors have no place(especially if they were previously trained and employed by respected services). Just limited use to fill up a temporary shortfall.
          Doctors, dentists your argument is pretty correct, but they are very strictly regulated by professional and government / legal bodies. They are also acting as individuals rather than as a large corporation. So they are personally accountable for their actions.
          Airlines. Qantas in Australia has held the record for a long time for being the safest airline in the world. It was entirely owned by Australian Govt until 2005, when it became partly privitised. Since then they have sacked or cut back many Australian maintainence workers, sending the work offshore to SE Asia. Whilst they have had no major disasters since privitisation, the number of technical malfunctions has dramtically increased. Engines dropping off mid flight, on board fires in wiring.
          Hotels absolutely right, you get what you pay for.
          Day care centers… well they are a necessary evil in these times because you need 2 wages to survive in most expensive 1st world countries. It would be better if the mother could stay at home and raise their own children though. Many woman in decent jobs gross a reasonable amount but end up working for peanuts after they factor in the child care costs. In many countries private childcare companies are heavily subsidised via taxes. Maybe not in USA, I don’t know?
          No I haven’t owned a business, most people don’t and won’t. Most people are employees. It is probably harder than ever to start most businesses, as you need a lot of capital to compete on an industrial scale.
          The overwhelming majority of new businesses go bust after 2 years, because they have unrealistic business plans that are lucky to break even let alone make a profit. Once again even if you have a viable business model, great technical skills, its not going to get started unless you can raise the capital.
          You might be surprised at how many of these privatised businesses, including already profitable ones are still heavily subsidised by governments. Oil companies , mining companies. Banks getting bailed out Governments in the GFC.
          Then there are multinationals, that don’t pay their true amount of taxes in the country where the profits are earned. These motherfuckers are rolling in it and you are topping up their profits with your own money via taxes.
          Common sense will tell you that a private company can’t do the same job for the same money as an efficient government agency(in the real world many agencies are inefficient or at least not as efficient as they could be). The private company has to make a profit on top of what it actually costs to build and maintain a service.
          As the saying goes”Follow the Money”.

        2. I don’t really trust private doctors. They will sell you pills to manage your symptoms, not make you healthy. I’ve had doctors tell me I *HAD* to have a $10,000+ operation, and when I skipped it later the guy said oh you made a full recovery, congrats.
          Most guys will be too scared to challenge them (see the Millgram effect).
          Airlines I trust to the extent they are regulated so that there are financial repurcussions when they lose your luggage or don’t deliver you to your destination at the time they claimed.
          Dentists–well I trust them to clean my teeth, but they are always trying to up-sell me on unnecessary and expensive optional treatments.
          There is nothing magic about the free market. I too used to be a hard core libertarian and it sounds nice in theory but I’m willing to bet you will reconsider as you age. Just because something is more profitable than something else does not make it better (often the opposite).
          The government in the US is pretty fucked but the idea of government in general is to look after the general welfare of the people. Where this is actually done it is very successful. When it’s not done well it’s just like any shitty private sector company, it sucks.
          Some things it just feels weird to profit off of–like educating a child or treating someone’s illness. Yes, receive compensation for your time, but to gain huge profits off of a public good like education and illness management is odd to me.

  7. I’ve consulted for governments in different countries. Everyone of them was the same. Same problems, same issues. It can be soul destroying if you don’t know how to manage the stupidity.

  8. Most of the good paying higher level ‘program management’ types of jobs for federal contractors will mainly to go to family members of individuals that work in other agencies or are high ranking military officials, females, minorities, and a small sliver for those based on merit. So unless you have special connections, then don’t count on getting that $100K+++ do-nothing desk job.
    If you work in the engineering force for a federal contractor, same bullshit as the corporate world, accept X100. Females and minorities. Females and minorities. Females and minorities. Guaranteed promotions and higher engineering pay for females that couldn’t design their way out of a toilet. Anything a female does is celebrated as a success, anything that a white male with no “special connections” does is ignored.
    Ever wonder why the F35 had so many problems? When you are concerned so much about how many females and minorities are part of the contractor to design and build it, there will be problems. A country that operates like that cannot win a war. Today, we’d probably lose a nuclear war against Russia because some female was put in charge as “group lead” for whatever area of the weapon being designed.
    Federal contractors do not care about the product. They care more about promoting females and minorities into positions above white males, setting them up for guaranteed success, and then producing a “diversity report” to the federal agency that provides the funding.

    1. Spot on. One contractor I worked for was doing the minority count – they went to a traditionally … um … melanin-gifted college, and they hired anyone they could get because we didn’t have enough blacks in the company. Did they know how to design databases or even write code? Hell no – so we productive types had to spend our time teaching them the basics of programming. They weren’t dead wood, they were negative workforce. And then after they learned enough to get outside jobs, they left, so guess what – we did it all over! All because the government contract monitors were too busy counting minorities.

  9. The Bad #1 is incorrect. A clearance request does not get charged to the company. The reason they DON’T want to hire people without a clearance is that it may take 6 or more months for the clearance to be finalized unless an interim clearance is issued. This means the company would be paying an employee who is unable to do their job.

  10. Been there, did that 30 years ago. I spent 13 years as a Beltway Bandit before the takeovers complained of by fems and minorities; I have to say our govt got value for money. My expenses stayed low and my work was OK. During those years I became slowly disabled, and would probably have been canned by most other companies. The moral: Stay independent.

  11. Playing the federal contractor game is a loser. In fact playing the independent contractor game is almost always a loser. It just takes too may clients to build a stable revenue base that is enough to overcome long term recessions. I tried it for a few years. Had a few goods ones out of the five two, but when 2008 hit great, consistent clients would consistently say “try me next quarter we might have more in the budget”. I ended up bringing down my aggregate hourly rate because it would take almost two hours to get one billable hour. Finally gave it up and went to work for someone else. Don’t regret the decision.

  12. Government workers are, by and large, the most incompetent, inept, and slothful human beings in existence and, until the inevitable implosion of the entire corrupt system, this will not change. Additionally, the overall quality of the employees will never improve since the people that ultimately make the hiring recommendations and/or decisions will not hire anyone better since they will become a threat to the current staff.

  13. This article is a good, partial synopsis as to why the federal government had outlived its usefulness and that America is in major decline.

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