Government Shutdown

Federal fellows take an unwanted break

compass innovation

Lily Bradley is not one for idle time. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School, founded and ran her own consulting firm and provided sophisticated analysis related to health care and economics for a variety of enterprises.

Bradley's success in the private sector landed her an innovation fellowship at the Department of Health and Human Services, where she has worked on open-data projects since February.

Since Oct. 1, however, she has been benched.

"It's disheartening that the government has been shut down,” Bradley said. “I don't feel like I am being given the opportunity to serve in the way that I was brought on to. This hasn't happened in 17 years, so I'm hopeful it's not indicative of the environment going forward."

Bradley is just one of the many federal fellows, including the approximately 50 Presidential Innovation Fellows, who have been relegated to inactivity because of the partial government shutdown.

"When I start to think about the work, I get a little bit upset I think because I like want to keep working on it but we've been told that they're going to do an audit and we'll get in trouble if we're caught having done work during the furlough,” she said.

Lily Bradley

Lily Bradley has volunteered at a school while waiting out the shutdown.

Bradley has volunteered at a school as part of her effort to keep busy, but she has to stay clear of anything that might even appear to be a conflict of interest related to her work, a norm for the federal workforce.

"I was brought into this position to work on this intersection of policy and business to improve health care. The focus has been on opening data and supporting entrepreneurial work that will use data innovatively to solve problems,” she said, although she could not be more specific because they have yet to be announced to the public.

Dave Caraway is a presidential innovation fellow working for Caraway has also been furloughed, though he is confident the shutdown will not have long-term ramifications for fellows.

"Short term of course, my observation has been with our program and probably with many other programs, whenever you stop something that's in [progress], it's going to take a little bit more to get it going again," said Caraway, the founder of software services company Fogmine and a one-time Lockheed engineer.

Caraway is helping develop improved search tools and data visualizations for the next iteration of Even though his specific goals probably won’t be affected by the shutdown, Caraway said the data catalogues that agencies are supposed to release in November as part of President Barack Obama’s open-data initiative might be delayed.

"Most of my goals involve getting a certain number of things accomplished and I think they've been accomplished to date,” he said. Caraway’s fellowship ends in December.

Bradley hasn’t been quite so lucky.

"There will be internal deadlines that will pass and given that the people I'm working with to whom I owe that work, that they are also on furlough status, I think people will be understanding," she said.

Bradley said that even though in hindsight she thinks she would still have accepted her two-year fellowship, she has been wondering over the past few days if she should’ve taken an offer in the private sector.

"I really want to make the country a better place. I really want to improve health care and I feel like I'm not allowed to do that at all until they open up the government again," she said.

Bradley said that after her fellowship, which ends in 2015, she could see taking a break from the public sector before returning at some point in the future.

"I think that the American people deserve better,” Bradley said. “I think there's a lot of really great talent right now sitting on the sidelines and it would be nice if we could all get back to delivering services to the American people and writing good policy and taking care of the most vulnerable populations."

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Fri, Oct 11, 2013 John Teeter Oreana Idaho:)

It's is disappointing to be locked out of services, albeit temporarily. The Presidential Innovation Fellow deployment is for 12 months - a one month furlough just when we were getting rolling is a bit of a set-back ... BUT fife is still good and the BLM didn't shut down access to the range:) I did just get to ride 50 miles through the Idaho desert on a fast horse. Green Button for America PIF team!

Fri, Oct 11, 2013 Michael N. Alexander Lexington, MA

Should one infer, from the article's exclusive focus on "federal fellows," that rank and file civil servants are not similarly disheartened and frustrated by federal furloughs?

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group