(Am I) good enough for government work?
February 10, 2006 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Who writes all those pages and pages of text that the US government generates? More to the point, might someone pay me to write some of them?

I know the official stuff is written by lawyers, but I'm wondering about unofficial government documents — all the handbooks, factsheets, brochures, instructions and guidelines. The government must pay a lot of people to research and write those documents. Who are they? Full-time employees? Contractors? Freelancers?

Are they paid well? (Are they paid better if they can get a security clearance, as I gather is often the case with government work?) How are they hired?

And most importantly, how might an ordinary guy with no government contacts — but a diploma and good writing skills — get in on some of that action?
posted by nebulawindphone to Law & Government (23 answers total)
 
I should add that I'm focusing on the US because I'm a US citizen and resident. If I could find similar work for a foreign government without moving (or getting in trouble with the feds), I'm all ears.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:54 AM on February 10, 2006


USAJobs is one place to start. Searching on "writer" with no other restriction, turns up 157 posted openings.
posted by paulsc at 7:59 AM on February 10, 2006


I have a cousin who does exactly what you are talking about (for customs/DHS). She makes decent money, nothing spectacular. Typical federal government employee pay. It's a full-time job type of situation in DC. I doubt they hire freelancers, though your local government might. paulsc is right, USAJobs is a good place to start looking.
posted by necessitas at 8:04 AM on February 10, 2006


First of all, yes, you are good enough

Second, the job clearinghouse for Fed jobs is usajobs.opm.gov
Here's a link with a search on their site nationally for the keyword "writer"

(paulsc beat me to it)

Generally federal jobs are known to pay a lower salary but give great benefits, including pensions.

Finally applying for work with the government take a lot of time and paperwork. Don't be scared away by this by what you read in the OPM job application descriptions and instructions.
posted by poppo at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2006


Are they paid better if they can get a security clearance, as I gather is often the case with government work?

On this issue, I think the way it will really work: You will apply for a job with salary X where one of the requirements of that job is being able to get a security clearance. So you may not be paid more for it on this job, but you may find it will get you more pay and/or more opportunities in the future
posted by poppo at 8:10 AM on February 10, 2006


I should add that I'm focusing on the US because I'm a US citizen and resident. If I could find similar work for a foreign government without moving (or getting in trouble with the feds), I'm all ears.

If you work for a foreign government, you can lose your citizenship. When you apply for or renew your passport you have to swear that you have not worked for a foreign government.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:14 AM on February 10, 2006


Generally federal jobs are known to pay a lower salary but give great benefits, including pensions.

Free gym, compressed work schedule (4x10 hr days so I'm off every Friday), 11 Federal holidays each and every year...
posted by fixedgear at 8:21 AM on February 10, 2006


Five weeks of vacation (after 15 years of service), a wide selection of reasonably priced health plans...And, hey, I don't think the salaries are all that bad, considering you will almost never be asked to work overtime or weekends.

A *lot* of this stuff is contracted out. You're correct that feds actually write the regulations and official stuff, but things like Web content, brochures and handbooks are often done by contractors. Check out the listings for writers and tech writers at the Washington Post jobs site.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2006


If you work for a foreign government, you can lose your citizenship. When you apply for or renew your passport you have to swear that you have not worked for a foreign government.

Don't be so dramatic, lots of people work for foreign governments, although you might lose the ability to get a security clearance later. You would need to register as a foreign agent, though.
posted by delmoi at 8:30 AM on February 10, 2006


Thanks for the information so far.

It occurs to me that there's another question I should have asked — are there private companies that do writing jobs for the government, the way there are companies that get government contracts to build or manufacture things?
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:34 AM on February 10, 2006


Two things:

Not who writes them, but who prints them: you might find something useful looking into the Government Printing Office.

As for who does the actual writing, the gummint is a huge place, full of people generating paper. This DC native would not jump to the conclusion that "all the official stuff is written by lawyers" (reviewed by, sure). Where I would look, however, is your senator or congressperson's office -- congressional staff generate large amounts of reports.
posted by Rash at 8:49 AM on February 10, 2006


I used to write for the government. It was a contract position, gotten through a large contracting company. I wrote the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Standard Occupational Classification manual, and associated Federal Register notices. A lot of it was boilerplate lifted from other manuals and notices, but, yes, I used my hawt writer skillz to do the rest. I also had the time to figure out how to put it on the web, my first html project ever.

I didn't particularly like the company I worked for, but I'll tell you which one it was, if you email me. Nope, didn't get paid much for it, $32K a year in 1996. But it wasn't bad work.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:57 AM on February 10, 2006


If you do apply for a government job (and USAjobs is the site to go to), make sure you follow the instructions listed on the job announcement. Specifically, speak directly to the knowledge required for the job.

What usually happens is that the human resources department reads and orders each application --the top three usually make the cut. Then and only then do the applications get forwarded to the actual office doing the hiring. So, you need to put your best foot forward by telling them your relevant experience in the terms they ask for from the beginning.

The people making those initial decisions may no nothing about the actual requirements for the job. They are looking for key words that describe your experience.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:40 AM on February 10, 2006 [1 favorite]


I meant "may KNOW nothing..." Duh.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 9:41 AM on February 10, 2006


I actually edit this stuff for a living. Everything generated by my agency is written by policy people and subject matter experts. There are no actual "writers" here. You may want to check out America's Job Bank or the human resources' Web sites of individual state and federal agencies. You can get an entry level job in a policy, public affairs, or governmental relations department, find a program that interest you, and learn everything you can about it. It's a relatively straightforward career path in my office.

If you can become relatively well versed in a particular government program and are a strong writer, they'll have you writing until your fingers bleed. Good luck!
posted by lunalaguna at 9:41 AM on February 10, 2006


Yes, you are good enough to do it. You will get paid better as a contractor, but have better benefits and stability as a government employee. In most cases, you will do the actual writing if you are the contractor, and take credit for it if you are the government employee. I've been on both sides of the fence here, and I generate paperwork for a living right now.

Getting hired involves a lot of paperwork, nothing more. Getting a security clearance involves a lot more paperwork and some more waiting, but not too much else for most people. Your options are *much* greater if you have a clearance, at least in this general area.

Other than that, read the other responses about actually getting hired.
posted by bh at 9:45 AM on February 10, 2006


Ah, yes, bh, forgot to mention that you will not get credit, usually, for what you write. That's one the reasons I left. I did, however, get mentioned in the print version of the SOC.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:56 AM on February 10, 2006


"Will not get credit" meaning I wouldn't get a byline? Or "will not get credit" meaning I couldn't even put it on a resumé or CV?
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:26 PM on February 10, 2006


The really sweet government writing job to get is as a research writer for Congressional Research Service. It pays incredibly well, and you basically write research papers for members of congress and their staffs.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:33 PM on February 10, 2006


"Will not get credit" meaning I wouldn't get a byline?

Exactly -- the only credit listed may be your contracting company's name. But of course you can mention any work you performed, on your resume.
posted by Rash at 2:23 PM on February 10, 2006


If you work for a foreign government, you can lose your citizenship. When you apply for or renew your passport you have to swear that you have not worked for a foreign government.
Surely not. I don't know American law for sure, (I'm Canadian) but this seems ridiculous (suppose an ambassador hires an American aide?). We certainly have no such policy, there are even Canadians in the US Army.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 6:06 PM on February 10, 2006


If you work for a foreign government, you can lose your citizenship. When you apply for or renew your passport you have to swear that you have not worked for a foreign government.

It's possible but unlikely. Applicable rules here.
posted by jaysus chris at 7:30 PM on February 10, 2006


Those rules appear to apply to elected, policymaking public offices with a foreign government.
The Department has a uniform administrative standard of evidence based on the premise that U.S. citizens intend to retain U.S. citizenship when they obtain naturalization in a foreign state, subscribe to routine declarations of allegiance to a foreign state, or accept non-policy level employment with a foreign government. This administrative premise is not applicable when an individual seeks public office in a foreign state, instead, the Department of State will carefully ascertain the individual's intent toward U.S. citizenship.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 5:48 PM on February 11, 2006


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