After years of being bashed by politicians and the media, having pay frozen at 2010 levels and being hit by a series of furloughs, federal workers may be in for another spanking from their elected leaders of both political parties.
This time, the issue is whether they are really needed or not! Seriously. Sort of the ultimate kick in the professional slats. As in, if there is a government shutdown and you are told to stay home, your spouse, kids, neighbors and even your dog will know you are sort of a loser.
The unhappy option facing career civil servants from NASA to the National Park Service is this: A possible government shutdown, if it happens, will publicly divide the federal civil service into two groups of workers:
Those who are really needed, people in so-called essential or emergency occuptions, vs.,
Individuals and occupations designated as nonessential and therefore required to stay home during said shutdown.
Today’s situation is similar to the late, great shutdown of 1995-96 which was also a partisan battle between Congress and the White House. Then the GOP controlled both the House and Senate. President Bill Clinton was in the White House which, because of the shutdown, was run in part by interns rather than career feds detailed to the executive office.
During that fiasco, about 284,000 federal workers were furloughed for 21 days. The furloughs were extended in many snowbelt parts of the country by Mother Nature. The Congressional Research Service estimated that 475,000 essential employees were told to report to work during the furlough. Eventually, both groups got paid, although that is no guarantee it will work out that way if there is another shutdown.
(Lest you think this is something new, the CRS says there were six shutdowns totaling 66 days during President’s Carter one, 4-year term. Before that time there had been shutdowns and furloughs but they were less noticeable. But in 1980 — to up the political ante —the Justice Department ruled that nonessential employees had to be sent home. Thus the modern day shutdown was born).
By most accounts, Republicans (it was Clinton vs. Gingrich) lost the furlough battle according to public opinion polls and media reaction.
So if it happens again, your agency and your boss, will decide whether you are sent home with the majority of nonessential/nonemergency personnel or whether you have the honor of being told to come in and work for free! (Isn’t that sort of illegal?)
Most members of Congress weren’t around for the last big shutdown. Possibly they were too young. Or they had “real” jobs — in the private sector — where bosses who play political chicken with their employees get their heads chopped off. Metaphorically speaking of course.
What are the odds there will be a shutdown? Consult the experts, then assume they are either wrong. Or fibbing.
When the White House-designed, congressionally-approved sequestration plan was adopted, each side saw it as a Trojan horse to trump the other party. Members of Congress said it shouldn’t happen. The President said it wasn’t going to happen. Wrong and wrong!
Whatever happens, rest assured. The country is in good hands, even if you are condemned to watch daytime TV for a while.
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