"Some of them have been called back and some haven't," he said. "The work they're doing is crucial and it needs to be done."

Keith Tate had the misfortune of starting a new job as a contractor Oct. 1, the first day of the shutdown. The 51-year-old Hyattsville man expected to be sitting through orientation. Instead, he was furloughed.

Now he's waiting a second time for his job to start. And he's watching his savings slip away. Tate had been hired to work as a consultant on several federal youth programs. He was connected to the job by Silver Spring-based FM Talent Source, a recruiting and accounting contractor.

"It's like a hole punched in a balloon. There's air in it, but it's slowly going out," Tate said of his personal finances. "I've never been in a scenario like this."

Nearly 30 percent of the company's 92 employees based in federal agencies have been furloughed. Co-owner Omari Franklin said the 9-year-old firm will be able to weather the shutdown. But he said that might have been different if it had taken place a few years ago when the company was getting started.

"We still don't have an outcome yet," he said. "We still don't know when the government is going to open."

Federal spending has slowed in recent years — even before the deep budget cuts known as sequestration began this year — but contracting has exploded over the past decade as agencies have relied more on private firms to cut costs. The federal government spent $518 billion on goods and services nationwide in 2012, compared with $205 billion 12 years ago.

A similar increase took place in Maryland: The amount spent on contracts here has more than doubled since 2000.

Deborah Scott Thomas, who founded Data Solutions & Technology in 1994, urged Congress to resolve the budget crisis quickly. If it doesn't, she said, the impact on her company and employees such as House will be devastating.

"The stress level is completely raised now," she said. "I'm just praying that it doesn't get worse."