News, Gossip, Colorful Commentary and Federal Employment

Combining the power of the internet with computer technology can be seductive. It can also be powerful and can threaten you federal job.

Can a federal employee have a second job outside of government?

In most cases, the answer is “yes.” There is no blanket prohibition against most federal employees working in another job. There are the usual caveats. If you are a federal employee and thinking about taking a second job, get administrative approval from your agency.

This protects you as well as the agency. The agency can verify that the work you are doing will not be a problem or conflict with your federal job. Of course, if the outside employment would interfere with your regular job, either because of work schedule or a conflict of interest with your federal employment, your request won’t be approved if you tell the truth about the job.

If you take an outside job, be very careful not to use government resources with regard to that job. Don’t use the government e-mail system, for example, to communicate with your “other” supervisor.

But most important of all, there is the common sense factor. Unfortunately, this factor may seem obvious to some but others are oblivious or may not consider it to be important.

For example, we recently wrote about a federal attorney who lost his job as a result of his work with the California Green Party. No doubt, this former federal employee was smart, ambitious and productive but may have gotten carried away with the political passion for his other job.

But political passion isn’t the only thing that can trip up a federal employee who becomes too involved in his outside employment.

Combining modern computer software technology with the power of the internet can be seductive and fun. It can also theaten your federal job.

David Lat was, until very recently, an assistant US Attorney in Newark, New Jersey. Well-educated with degrees from Harvard and Yale Law School, Lat took an outside job. Obviously very creative and a good writer, his outside job took on a life of its own.

He posed as a young, female attorney working for a large law firm in a major city and “toiling in obscurity.” He started a “web blog.” A “web blog” for those who may have missed it, is a type of personal diary that is posted on the internet. The author may write about a topic of his choosing and, anyone who is interested, can read the occasional written musings.

Lat’s web blog was called “Underneath their Robes.” The web site is described on the site as “News, gossip and colorful commentary about the federal judiciary.”

Writing as “Article III Groupie”, very few people apparently knew the real identity of the author. But, as a well-written gossip column about the federal judiciary, this particular web blog was experiencing success. With articles like “Too Sexy for Their Robes: The Nominees for Superhotties of the Federal Judiciary”, the blog attracted a following among both within and outside of the legal community.

Of course, readers can only imagine how a typical US Attorney would react to a lawyer in the office appearing in court after having described a federal judge as a woman who ” ‘definitely has the blonde ice princess look going.’ A former president of the Florida Bar (and its first female president), Judge … is a skillful schmoozer who ‘knows how to work it.’ When she is willing to defrost, she can flash a ‘blinding, Julia Roberts-quality smile’ “.

And, as an interesting aside, the author noted that “She was appointed to the district court in 1998 by, you guessed it, President Clinton (who is known to have a weakness for ice queens).”

Of course, when the author was anonymous, he was relatively safe. No doubt speculation abounded among readers about the author of the colorful articles pointing out strengths and weaknesses of those dispensing decisions from the safety and security of a lifetime appointment behind a federal bench.

But his anonymity disappeared. “Article Three Groupie” decided to “out” himself in an interview with New Yorker magazine.

The New Yorker article appeared in November and it said: “Although he intended to remain anonymous, the success of the blog made coming clean irresistible. ‘I felt frustrated that I was putting a lot of time into this and was unable to get any credit for it,’ Lat said. ‘But eventually these things have a way of coming out anyway. I only hope that the judges I appear in front of don’t read it.’ ”

Not surprisingly, quite a few people apparently read the article. It wasn’t too long before Assistant US Attorney Lat decided to leave his federal job. He is reportedly moving to Washington.

And a public relations person for the Justice Department told the media: “There was no effort to force him out of the office at all. He was very good at what he did.”

So we can assume the US Attorney’s office also enjoyed the creativity and humor of the “Underneath Their Robes” commentary and the author of the web blog decided to take advantage of his education and writing skills in another environment.

But, if you are a federal employee and want to write “news, gossip and colorful commentary” about the interest groups that affect your agency, be very careful. Your supervisor may not see your humor as appropriate for your federal position.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47