This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog, ChiefHRO.com, and was republished here with permission from the author.
The partial government shutdown is now at 34 days and counting. The president and congressional Democrats are dug in and no one wants to give in. Regardless of views on the wall or immigration or border security, I believe most Americans can agree on one thing: This shutdown is a shameful display of politics and utter disregard for people.
Here are a few examples of why I believe it is time for the parties to do their jobs and end this thing.
Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, issued a video where he said “I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries & donations to get through day-to-day life.”
Your Coast Guard leadership team & the American people stand in awe of your continued dedication to duty, resilience, & that of your families. I find it unacceptable that @USCG members must rely on food pantries & donations to get through day-to-day life. #uscgpic.twitter.com/TZ9ppUidyO
The Coast Guard, whose motto “Semper Paratus” means “Always Prepared” comprises more than 40,000 military personnel and over 8,000 civilians. They are tasked with Department of Homeland Security missions that include ports, waterways, and coastal security; drug interdiction; migrant interdiction; defense readiness and other law enforcement.
They have additional non-DHS security missions that include marine safety; search and rescue; aids to navigation; living marine resources; marine environmental protection and ice operations. The Coast Guard’s vision statement says “We will serve our nation through the selfless performance of our missions. We will honor our duty to protect those we serve and those who serve with us. We will commit ourselves to excellence by supporting and executing our operations in a proficient and professional manner.” True to their word, the officers, enlisted personnel and civilians of the Coast Guard are honoring their duty, and serving the nation through selfless performance of their missions. They are not getting paid, but they remain Semper Paratus.
A political fight has resulted in men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America having to rely on food pantries. That, my friends, is shameful.
The Coast Guard is not the only agency where people continue to miss paychecks. On Friday, we will see the second missed paycheck for 800,000 civilian employees, half of whom are still working with no idea when they will be paid for their services.
Just to put it in perspective, we are talking serious money — for 800,000 employees, each missed paycheck adds up to $2.66 billion. That means Friday’s missed pay will bring the total effect on the affected public servants to more than $5.2 billion. For the employees who are still working, they will have contributed $2.5 billion dollars of labor without pay.
It gets worse.
The Office of Personnel Management recently reminded agencies that they can declare employees who do not show up for their unpaid work assignments absent without leave (AWOL). OPM said, “If an employee is excepted from furlough, and therefore required to work during the shutdown yet has failed to do so, he or she would be considered AWOL during the period of any such unauthorized absence. The employee’s unauthorized absence should be coded in payroll as AWOL. Agencies may elect to provide the employee a written notification about his or her AWOL status at the time of the AWOL but this can vary by agency. The agency may use its discretion, based on the facts and circumstances of the employee’s situation, to apply appropriate consequences based on the AWOL.”
Some employees are having difficulty showing up for work because they are out of money. Those who have long commutes may not be able to afford gas. Others may not have the money to pay for public transportation or for parking fees. In Washington, D.C., for example, it can cost $200 per month for parking. They may also find security clearances at risk if they cannot pay their bills.
The idea that the government of the greatest nation on earth would require employees to pay to get to a job where they will not be paid until some as-yet-unknown date in the future, take away their clearances, and would discipline or even fire them if they do not show up, is shameful.
Our uniformed service members and civilian employees are not the only public servants. Much of the work of the affected agencies is done by contractors. Those companies and the people they employ carry out many critical functions. Unlike federal employees, who will eventually be paid, they have no guarantee of back pay. It is safe to conclude that most contract employees who are not getting paid will not see any back pay.
Although some folks assume the companies are rolling in big bucks, the truth is that most companies do not operate with huge margins and simply cannot afford to pay people when the revenue is not coming in. That is particularly true of small businesses. So, these folks are not working, not getting paid, and are unlikely to see any back pay. They and their employers had the expectation that the government of the United States would honor its contracts and not leave them holding the bag.
What is happening to those people, who are also public servants, is shameful.
Our economy is built on consumption. A worker earns money, then spends it. When she or he spends that money, they pay it to a business that, in turn, pays employees, providers of goods and services, and others. Those people do the same. That means every dollar of economic activity generates more dollars of activity. Imagine the cost to the economy of more than $5.2 billion not being paid to federal workers. Add to that the billions not being paid to contractors. Then imagine the multiplying effect of those dollars being sucked out of the economy.
Virtually everyone agrees that a strong economy is vital to our economic and national security. The cost of this shutdown will be many billions of dollars, and that is shameful.
One thing I can say for certain is that I believe there is more than enough shame to go around. Most of that shame rightly belongs to our elected leaders and representatives who have chosen to use public servants as pawns. Some of it, tragically, will land on our public servants who do not deserve it.
We all know people who would be appalled by the prospect of asking for help with food or their basic necessities. They work for a living and are proud of the work they do. They pay their own way. Yet, we have put many of them in the position of having to ask for help. Our public servants, our economy, and the credibility of our government are on the line. It is time for the parties to talk. To find a way out of this mess, and for everyone to get paid and get back to work.
Jeff Neal is a senior vice president for ICF and founder of the blog, ChiefHRO.com. Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Homeland Security Department and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency.