Thanks for the advice, Homework, and for the empathy! As it turns out my *company* does a fair bit of work for this agency, but not out of my office as we're not the geographically closest. I think it would be fairly tough to do consulting with them, though I will continue to express interest in doing so through the other office. Free consulting typically isn't done in my field, and at my level I'm not sure I have much to add that they'd jump at taking anyway.
If your company does work with the agency and you have a personal interest in getting involved, you might be able to get your foot in the door by asking to help out the office that does the work. If it's engineering, maybe you can be assigned as a reviewer, drawing checker etc. Accounting...same idea, you could do informal checks or audits.
[quote="honeybee"]As someone who has presumably done a lot of "first contact" -- I am curious about your approaches to initiating that first contact, and how not to come off like you're selling something. (In this case, I am selling myself.) I guess my intuition is to be as honest and forthright as possible. For my case, would you suggest cold calls? Cold emails? Requests for informational interviews? Send an application when a job comes available? Call ahead if a likely conference is coming up and see if I can set up a meeting there? Obviously what you were trying to do is a little different than what I am, but I figure you are an expert in the relationship building routine, so on a general basis I'm curious to know what you've found successful for getting that start.
In my situation my company had some interesting technology that could be used in various applications. So I was on the lookout for other companies that had work going on that could use our technology. We weren't trying to sell it to the other companies in most cases. We were trying to look for ways that we could bid on projects together or work on development together. There were two basic ways I did this. First I went to a lot of conferences and workshops to stay familiar with technology and talked to people who were developing it. Engineers are always excited to talk about the "cool" stuff they are doing. It was a little like spying except we were always upfront that we were interested in their technology and applications to find ways we could work together.
The second way of getting information was to closely watch and analyze budgets. Much of what we did was for defense so I got to be an expert on the defense budget. If we saw a $10 million or $100 program appear in the budget it was my job to know all about it. The budget line would usually show up years before the project became real for teh stuff we were doing. I don't know what type of thing you are doing but this is true of roads, large computer systems, water treatment plants, etc, not just defense programs.
If you want to PM me I would be happy to talk specifics but you probably want to stay anonymous and not provide details.
But no matter what it is, look for the new things that the agency might be doing and try to become an expert on it. If it's a court system, maybe they are putting in a great new database system for managing records. Mayby they have an innovative jury management process. Basically just learn as much about the agency and what they do as possible.