Are You Furloughed and in Need of a Job? Try a Start-Up.

A community of D.C.-area tech start-ups is here to help. And they love your resume.

Participants work at computers at the Campus Party 2012 technology festival at former Tempelhof Airport on August 22, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Oct. 9, 2013, 8:42 a.m.

Now that fur­loughed fed­er­al work­ers have had the time to run some er­rands, en­joy a mini stay-cation and catch up on epis­odes of Break­ing Bad, many are be­gin­ning to look for tem­por­ary ways to get some cash.

And through the quick ac­tion of the In­ter­net and a sense of good neigh­bor­li­ness, those work­ers are find­ing ex­actly that. Start-up tech com­pan­ies are post­ing open gigs to a newly cre­ated on­line job board — with re­quire­ments ran­ging from “ba­sic ex­cel skills” to “web re­search skills” to “le­gis­lat­ive ex­per­i­ence” and everything in between — in hopes of at­tract­ing highly qual­i­fied feds who have some ex­tra time on their hands dur­ing the shut­down.

Some op­por­tun­it­ies could even lead to per­man­ent po­s­i­tions, cre­at­ing a po­ten­tial “brain drain” of tal­ent from the gov­ern­ment as the shut­down con­tin­ues in­to its second week.

The idea, as with most good ones, ar­rived serendip­it­ously via a strike of good-hearted in­ten­tion. Tom Clark, the vice pres­id­ent of mar­ket­ing for my­ED­match.com, a job-match­ing site for teach­ers and schools (think on­line dat­ing for edu­ca­tion jobs), was out about town no­ti­cing all the deals bars and res­taur­ants were of­fer­ing to fur­loughed em­ploy­ees. In­spired by the sense of com­munity, Clark real­ized that the plat­form for his day job could also be used to help fur­loughed work­ers. He cre­ated a Google Doc spread­sheet — dubbed the “Shut­down Work Board” — to al­low tech start-ups to post freel­ance op­por­tun­it­ies for the fur­loughed.

Clark pro­moted the page through the D.C.-area start-up in­cub­at­or 1776, and im­me­di­ately the on­line net­work­ing tool took off. With­in the first two days, 3,000 people vis­ited the Google Doc.

“From there, we sort of real­ized we were onto something,” Clark said. 1776 teamed up with BLEN Corp and with­in hours pro­duced Un­fur­lough.us to keep up with the traffic. Cur­rently, the site fea­tures dozens of avail­able “gigs” and eager “freel­an­cers,” though some of them, ad­mit­tedly, are not fur­loughed feds but just people in­ter­ested in find­ing work.

Many of the start-ups are thrilled by the sud­den avail­ab­il­ity of fed­er­al em­ploy­ee tal­ent.

“One of the biggest con­cerns in hir­ing in the D.C. area is that you’re com­pet­ing against the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for top tal­ent,” said Tim Hwang, CEO of Fisc­al­Note, a real-time gov­ern­ment ana­lyt­ics plat­form. The sud­den abil­ity to poach that tal­ent, Hwang said, is “a win not only for start-ups but also the gen­er­al eco­nomy for the re­gion.”

Ex­ec­ut­ives at the tech start-ups told Na­tion­al Journ­al that fed­er­al em­ploy­ees are uniquely skilled and qual­i­fied for many of the po­s­i­tions they are look­ing to fill. The mix of their edu­ca­tion and flu­ency with vari­ous tech­nic­al tools el­ev­ate their re­sumes to the top of the pile. And for some groups, a work­ing know­ledge of how gov­ern­ment works is an in­valu­able as­set.

“It’s really awe­some if you’re able to get help from someone on the tech side and the gov­ern­ment side,” be­cause they are “leaps and bounds ahead of people we can find in the open mar­ket,” said Seamus Kraft, a cofounder of the Open­Gov Found­a­tion, which works to make gov­ern­ment more open and ac­cess­ible. (A bit of an iron­ic twist: Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Cal­if, is also a cofounder.)

Kraft, who also has been a fed­er­al em­ploy­ee, said it’s little sur­prise that fur­loughed work­ers are pok­ing around for oth­er op­por­tun­it­ies. He has fielded a dozen in­quir­ies, and “all of them are le­git.” In many cases, the can­did­ates are not in­ter­ested in a tem­por­ary gig but a full-time change of ca­reers.

“It ab­so­lutely could hap­pen.” Kraft said when asked if some of the ap­plic­ants could be­come per­man­ent. “That is how we’re start­ing to grow our team.”

Gov­ern­ment jobs are typ­ic­ally viewed as stable, safe bets that come with gen­er­ous be­ne­fits, said, Donna Har­ris, a cofounder of 1776. But the shut­down is lead­ing some to start think­ing about oth­er op­por­tun­it­ies that pre­vi­ously might have been off their radar.

“Find­ing good tech­nic­al tal­ent is really hard,” Har­ris said. “So what’s go­ing on with this dy­nam­ic, all of a sud­den these people have time on their hands and it’s giv­ing them the time to ex­plore this eco­sys­tem that many didn’t even know ex­is­ted.”

Time — and the length of the shut­down — will tell wheth­er we wit­ness a mass ex­odus of feds leav­ing their bur­eau­crat­ic day jobs.

“There’s a great stitch between the mis­sion of these start-ups and the jobs of these fed­er­al work­ers,” said Har­ris. “I’ll be in­ter­ested to see what this leads to. The longer the shut­down goes on, the more in­terest people will show in these al­tern­at­ive ca­reers.”

For Tom Clark, the en­tre­pren­eur be­hind the pro­ject, the net­work­ing is about more than con­nect­ing start-ups to the fur­loughed masses. It’s a re­mind­er that Wash­ing­ton is a com­munity of people that con­tin­ues to look out for each oth­er, even when the gov­ern­ment turns off for a while.

“D.C. is not just home to the White House and Cap­it­ol,” Clark said. “It’s home to the res­id­ents who live here.”

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