Personal Finance

Just get another job? For federal workers, it's not that simple

Key Points
  • Some 800,000 federal workers across the country have seen their income suspended as the government shutdown crawls into its fourth week.
  • Unable to meet their bills without a paycheck, some of these employees are looking for other jobs.
  • Job site Indeed has reported an uptick in interest from federal workers amid the standoff in Washington.

Last month, Adam Baker worked in a lab as a geologist for the U.S. Department of Interior. Now he's a server at a brewery.

He has the government shutdown to thank for that.

Adam Baker had to pick up another job during the government shutdown.
Source: Adam Baker

When two weeks passed and Baker still wasn't called back to his desk in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he started searching for jobs. He had just $1,600 in savings, an amount soon to be wiped out by car loan and rent payments.

"It was very surreal," Baker, 34, said. "One of the reasons I chose a job with the federal government was for the security."

The government shutdown has paused the incomes of some 800,000 federal workers. Unable to meet their bills without a paycheck, some of these employees are looking for other jobs.

Job site Indeed has already reported an uptick in interest from federal workers.

"As the shutdown goes on, we could see the federal government start to lose workers," said Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at Indeed, "and with a labor market this tight, it may have trouble replacing them." The unemployment rate is below 4 percent.

Still, picking up another job isn't an easy process for government employees, said Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.

Government agencies typically require employees to obtain approval before they can take on an additional job, Painter said. Ethics lawyers usually give the green light on such requests, but, he said, "What do you do if the ethics lawyers are furloughed? They've really got these workers in a bind."


Even if a federal worker is able to process a request for another job, Painter said, there are caps on how much they can earn and conflict-of-interest limitations.

"If you're a bank regulator at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, you better not go get a job as a teller at a bank," Painter said. "If you're working on any matter at the Department of Labor that has a direct impact on McDonalds, then you better not go get a job at McDonalds."

Employees who don't go through the approval process can face consequences, including termination.


For many of the more than 400,000 federal employees deemed "essential," taking on another job is not possible because they're still expected to show up at their current one.

Greg, and his wife, Michelle, both work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He asked to use their first names only, as they're not permitted to speak to the media.

Even though their savings is quickly disappearing, he still is working his job in which he oversees the protection of natural resources. Meanwhile, his wife is furloughed, and there is no one at her office to approve a request for a second job.

He's tired of seeing people quip on social media that workers like him should just find other work. "They simply don't know what they're talking about," he said.

Caitlin Rottler
Source: Caitlin Rottler

Caitlin Rottler, a climate fellow at the Department of Agriculture, was also told that she needed permission from her agency to accept another job. And so, when the woman who gives her horseback riding lessons offered to pay her a few hundred dollars to paint her house next week, she happily accepted the gig.

"It'll help me a little," Rottler, 31, said, until her first unemployment check comes. (Once they get their back pay, federal workers will have to return the money they received from the unemployment program).

Money isn't the only reason Rottler is taking on the project, she said: "I'm bored out of my mind."

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