Tech Coop working in government/civic tech

I have posted here before and I’ve been told this is mostly a euro-centric discourse forum but I was still curious to know:

Has anyone done/seen tech work done for government/civic tech before?

In the US the vast majority of our tech work is done by private companies. This is sorta problem. It even has a catchy nick name: Beltway Bandits.

More and more of the tech industry is dominated by giant FAANG companies. But this seems like a place that’s rich in possibility.

I work in civic tech. I like my company. But I would like someday to work in a worker coop and I think that structure would actually be ideal for producing better civic technology.

Anybody seen or done this before? I mean internationally though I would def appreciate hearing from Americans who are familiar with the federal procurement system in particular.

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Maybe Cleveland?https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/apr/11/preston-cleveland-model-lessons-recovery-rust-belt

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I’m not sure about cooperative specifically, but if you’re interested in working in government tech, why not work for the government? (an ideally democratic institution itself) The US federal government have organizations such as USDS & 18F which do lots of great civic tech projects. I’ve heard that these institutions will receive some sort of rejuvenation under the new administration. I’m not sure what sort of state/municipality you are a part of but there’s a number of more local organizations in a variety of states.

Also worth checking out is Code of America which I suppose isn’t registered as a cooperative but I’m not clear that being an organization in the US with non-profit status can be a co-operative.

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Sorry I might have not been clear in my original message. I already work for the US federal government. Well I work for a private contractor that does work for the US federal government. It’s very difficult to actually work directly for the US federal government. I’ve applied many times to 18f and USDS but they typically only hire people from FAANG companies. The vast majority of tech work for the US federal government is done by private contractors (IE Beltway Bandits): hence my question, since it seems to me that a coop would be a good alternative to the private contractors.

Thank you for the recommendations though! Code for America is actually how I got started working in civic tech.

The difficulty here I’m trying to figure out is how to navigate the procurement process. In order to do contracting work for the government you have to first have been approved. That’s the “procurement process”.

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Caveat: I only know about the UK procurement processes.

One method that may work:

In the UK it is relatively normal to create a company for the supply of services to the local government, as the contract-providers find it simpler to trade with a limited company, rather than directly with a freelancer.

(This has lead to a number of cases with the HMRC ruling on whether a single-person company is a contractor or an employee, as they have different issues when it comes to paying tax. Best practical advice is to make sure that you have more than one customer, as that acts as a work-around for the IR35 regulations.)

One idea that arises from this, is to set up a company that works on a contract for the US government as a sub-contractor, and once the company is accepted as a sub-contractor, then to convert it from a company to a co-operative.

This may cause an underlying change in the certification, but if it does not, then it would be one route towards doing this.

Please note IANAL, so you willl need to get legal advice from someone who knows what they are talking about.

It may also be worth talking with people from https://www.shareable.net/ as they have a more USA-based focus, and may be able to put you in touch with someone who can give you legal advice that is relevant to your jurisdiction.

Hope that this helps. :slight_smile:

You definitely aren’t wrong here. There is a significant amount of corporate nepotism that happens here and I wouldn’t expect that to change any time soon,

I have never tried to sell services to the US government specifically but from my experience working on programs with USAID, there is a massive amount of overhead that seems to make it impossible for smaller organizations to get a leg up in government procurement tenders without connections.

That said, I do remember a few years back that the USDS did some sort of overhaul to IT procurement and there was some speak around making it easier for SMEs to get involved rather than giving it to the same 3 Beltway Bandits over and over. I’m not super familiar with it but perhaps there are some insights in the above link that might help.

Best of luck. As both an American and someone who is into civic hacking I can understand the difficulty of getting involved with helping out your government let alone in a way that can provide a living.

Some other organizations I found some success with are:

Further to Mike’s suggestions of other organisations, I watched this talk about DisCO.coop yesterday, which was given by Lisha Sterling from GeeksWithoutBounds.

GWOB isn’t a co-op itself because of rules in the State they’re based in, but are obviously co-op leaning and seem to be doing civic tech. Might be worth asking them for pointers too?

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