What do federal workers who are cynics with maybe a pinch of masochism have in common today? The short answer is plenty. And it’s all good.
This time last week many long-suffering civil servants were searching for their starving-college-days ramen noodle cookbooks. Others were stocking up on peanut butter, thinking of items to pilfer from the agency cafeteria, etc. In short, it was food for the the long haul to survive paydays delayed by the shutdown. Some were trying to recalculate the shelf life of cold pizza, hot pockets or how to stretch an order of chicken wings into a New Years Day feast.
Today these same, recently wretched government workers are looking forward to a four-day weekend. They’ll have the usual Saturday and Sunday, plus a bonus day on Monday and then Christmas Day off — with pay yet.
Yet just a week ago many were prepared to bet the farm, whether or not they actually have one or live in a city apartment, that as of midnight tonight they would be in partial shutdown status. Either forced to work without pay or forced to stay home without pay. Without pay being the operative phrase. The idea was that Congress and the White House, through a combination of nastiness and ineptitude, would allow, permit or even welcome a shutdown at midnight, like the two previous shutdowns this year.
What if it doesn’t happen, the can gets kicked down the road? Somebody blinked and those agencies and departments without fiscal year 2019 appropriations will run on a continuing resolution until February? Then we will go through all this again. While frustrating, things like this make for full employment (especially for those of us who cover the people side of government). Without fear and misery many of them (and us) would have to get real jobs.
Thursday’s column was about the surprise transition from shutdown to holiday mode. And that prompted this response from a Washington-based employee of the Agriculture Department:
“Good morning, I am a loyal column reader who enjoys your light and often spot-on take. I’m writing from my personal account [for] reasons many. I work at USDA in downtown D.C., and have actually written to you before. My observation about the bonus day off (I’ll take it!) for Christmas Eve:
“I admittedly did not think we were going to get that day off. I would have wagered a paycheck, with confidence. Even more cynically, I know Secretary [Sonny] Purdue would not have let us out early if we were open Christmas Eve day. He has yet to let us out early for anything in his tenure. Maybe we were spoiled by [Barack Obama-appointed] Secretary [Tom] Vilsak, but Secretary Purdue is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Not one single hour for any holiday in his tenure. He does pray for us, though (note: sarcasm).
“[[A] caveat: I know there are administrations dealing with far worse secretaries, and by comparison we’ve gotten off lucky. I have met Secretary Purdue, and he seems like a good man. Just would be nice if he threw us a token bone every now and then. Back to the day off via President Trump — I think he more often than not does things that benefit him. So why give us the day off? I think it’s a bit of a save-face move, to be honest.
“He’s going to Mar-a-Lago for two weeks. He just threatened to shut us down, and he’s going to Mar-a-Lago for two weeks. He already attempted to rescind any across-the-board raises, and he’s going to Mar-a-Lago for two weeks.
“Maybe over-thinking, but that’s my take. And yes, you are correct, I would have bet the farm (I don’t actually own a farm, mind you) that we would not have gotten the day off. And I would have gone all-in that we here at USDA would not have gotten one measly hour. Hope you have a great holiday, and wishing you a Merry Christmas (if applicable) and a Happy New Year!” — E in D.C.