Letter to the Editor: A veteran of shutdowns offers some observations

Editor’s note: This letter to the editor is responding to Mike Causey’s Jan. 4 column: “Scratch a Bureaucrat, Expose a Democrat, Right?”

I’m a 30-year federal employee with the Federal Aviation Administration and one of your constituents enduring my fifth government shutdown. I’m following through on the “plan” for feds to file for unemployment during the shutdown and I have to tell you that I’m not impressed. I probably don’t need to give you any ideas for articles about the impact of shutdowns. But let me make some observations:

  1. Looking for other work is a charade if our regular jobs are waiting for us to restart operations and clean up the mess that Congress and the president have made. Imagine yourself as a furloughed fed in a job interview in which your prospective employer asks about your previous job. Who wants to hire us for a few days or weeks after the temporary employment for the holidays’ tapers off? There’s no telling if a shutdown goes for weeks or months. Regardless, looking for work while one is on unemployment is required.
  2.  While the skill set that most of us have is generally applicable to many jobs, it’s particularly suited to federal service. There isn’t comparable work available in the D.C. area. In many ways, we’re a captive workforce. Given that many employers in the D.C. area are also affected by the shutdown, they’re likely not ready to hire.
  3. Related to skill sets, those of us in acquisition-related jobs are enjoined by procurement integrity laws from marketing our knowledge and skills with companies in industries in which we’d be highly valued. If we were successful in getting work within the industries we work with and we were recalled; there would be consequences. The laws are appropriate, but have this restraining effect. And since our ethics office is furloughed as well, we can’t consult on what’s an appropriate job offer.
  4. Related to part-time work, my agency’s policy is that I coordinate part-time employment with human resources. But they’re furloughed too.
  5. The idea that anyone should work for the federal government without pay, as some “essential” personnel are being forced to do is unconscionable. It’s a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and this assertion I believe has been upheld in court. I’m not an “essential” employee but stand with them.
  6. The Office of Personnel Management has been slow to recognize the impact of a shutdown as you know. My agency, the Transportation Department, hastily put together their guidance and it was issued at the last minute with holiday leave in full swing. Consequently, there are links to information that don’t work and some that require use of official networks and sites to access. The “plan” has been to push the impacts on the local governments.
  7. Finally, there’s the lasting impact. If you saw the story about air traffic controllers on CNN on Saturday, you’d have seen a very well-presented perspective. It had to be presented by the controllers union rather than management, though. And there was the story about “blue flu” at the Transportation Security Administration. Obviously, morale suffers. We’ve already had our pay frozen and the president tweets that those that are furloughed are “mostly Democrats.” So I really appreciated you saying what everyone in the workforce knows.— A furloughed FAA employee