How to Get a Job in the Obama Administration

“Billions of dollars in stimulus, there must be tons of jobs in DC. How do I get a job with the Obama Administration?”
As K Street becomes the new Wall Street, socially conscious business folks are flocking to DC to find jobs with the new administration. There are a lot of green jobs supporting the federal government’s green goals, you just need to know where to look. Here are some tips from inside Washington for those who would like to get in on the ground floor in President Obama’s administration.
1) There are actually three types of workers at a place like the Department of Energy. At the top are Political Appointees, most of which still have not been appointed and confirmed by the Obama administration. They set the agenda and the direction of the department based on the current administration’s goals and objectives. In the middle are career Federal Employees, or “Feds”, who stay from administration to administration. Many are career bureaucrats, with varying degrees of expertise and passion for the mission of the department. At the bottom are contractors, who actually do much of the day to day work. In fact, many contractors sit in the DOE, have DOE e-mail accounts, computers, and even blackberries.
2) Contractors are the fastest way to get involved. I heard that as much as 90% of the DOE workforce are contractors, though I do not know the actual number. Current Secretary Steven Chu was actually a contractor when running Lawrence Berkley National Labs. Contracting firms can hire you quickly and pay you a competitive salary. They are given tasks by the Feds to fulfill, for example helping to run a rebate program or analyze aspects of the stimulus package. If the task is complete, the contracting company can assign you to something else in the department. There are down sides to being a contractor, but if your goal is to get involved quickly this seems to be the best approach.

3) Political jobs are hard to come by and may not even be the best role for you. Sure there are a lot of political jobs in the “Plum Book.” There are a lot of very talented people who worked very hard for Obama over the past few years, and all of them are probably ahead of you in line for a job. Many of them are still waiting for an opportunity to join the administration. The process is opaque and in the end you might not be getting the job that is best for your career.
4) Federal jobs can take forever to get. The federal government moves slowly. The hiring process is cumbersome and the HR function is by no means up to par with the private sector. Red tape hinders the hiring processes, no matter who is pulling to get you in. One person told me that the former assistant secretary handpicked him for a role, and it still took nine months to get hired by the federal government.

If I could get a job, so can you.

After President Obama won the election I moved from sunny LA to our nation’s capital to try and become a part of the government’s push for a clean tech revolution. I had never worked in government, always in the private sector with a short stint on campaigns. My goal was to work at DOE in EERE (Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy). I was able to join a contractor 6 weeks after first contacting them, and now work at Department of Energy on interesting EERE projects.

Where to start looking for a job?

Here is a list of contractors that work on Energy and Environment related projects. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start.
There are also contractors working at the EPA on climate change:
Last year I also posted some ideas on private sector jobs that the energy plan supports Obama Energy Plan and 5 Business Opportunities It Supports
If you know of other contractors doing work that are hiring, please post them in the comments. Now go out and contact the HR people at these firms and become a part of the action in DC.
Photo Source: UPI Photo/Jeff Haynes/pool

7 responses

  1. two questions:
    – If you get a job through a contractor, do you get benefits? (like health insurance?)
    – Are there jobs for freshly-minted MS or PhD’s with no prior industry experience?

  2. Great questions.
    1) The contractors all have their own compensation packages. You will most likely be hired as an employee of the contractor. You do not receive Federal Government benefits, but many offer competitive compensation with private sector (e.g. health insurance, public transportation, 401k)
    2)There are lots of different jobs available, ranging from personal assistants to PhD scientists. Check out the contractor’s websites to see what’s available and contact their HR people.
    Good luck!

  3. Doing a job badly and then getting someone in to sort it out can be much more expensive than getting someone in to do the job properly in the first place.

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