Prussian commander Helmuth von Moltke said it first: “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.”
That’s what the latest pandemic has proven once again. Agencies and the government as a whole have been improvising. I’m not criticizing — how could anyone have had a detailed plan for something so specific? More than a test of planning, the virus is a challenge to resiliency and agility.
Not everyone is handling it so well. In fact, it’s starting to get weird out there.
You may have heard about a story posted on Reddit that went viral, no pun intended. A dad somewhere tossed out one of his young daughter’s dolls, telling her — this is true, I read it on Reddit — the dolly died of coronavirus. He cruelly used this gambit to try and convince the five-year-old to wash her hands.
That seems extreme. I thought of one of my granddaughters, who at age three, is never without a stuffed doll that’s so smudged and worn it’s known in the family as Dirty Baby. Even my granddaughter calls it that. I can’t think of a lesson I’d want to teach her by taking away Dirty Baby!
So keep breathing deeply.
For individual federal employees, daily work life is definitely a challenge, even as their agency bosses try to figure things out. You’re not alone. Organizations across the economic spectrum — including Federal News Network — have been testing their telework capacities this week. As I write, I’m in my studio. But there’s no one out in the newsroom. The business offices are deserted.
From all the input we’ve received here at FNN, it seems like federal employee concerns don’t differ all that much from the working population as a whole. They fall into two categories: how to work, and how to eventually not work.
First, just being out there with the sneezing, coughing, wheezing, nose-wiping, Metro-handle-holding, hands-unwashed, gooey-eyed public, including those in your own office.
This phenomenon has caused countless event cancellations. And it’s made telework the default strategy for agencies. The list of agencies and locations headed there grows daily. EPA in New York City. USCIS everywhere. Even the anti-telework Social Security Administration, although only in a couple of locations. The FDIC is contemplating a pressure test of its systems should management feel the need to invoke mass telework.
My advice? Go with the flow. You know the precautions if you need to be in the office. Being a lifelong germophobe, I’d only add, have hand lotion nearby to counteract all the soap and sanitizer.
A couple of other pieces of advice come from former Homeland Security Chief Human Capital Officer Jeff Neal, one of our regular contributors on HR-related topics. Besides letting everyone who wants to telework, Neal advises managers to be willing to advance sick or annual leave to employees who might need it. Managers have that authority, Neal said.
And, issue protective gear for people on the front lines — Transportation Security Administration officers, Customs and Border Protection officers, Social Security employees who deal with the public. That protects them, and the people they encounter. In fact, the American Federation of Government Employees has urged TSA to issue N95 masks to officers — but says Administrator David Pekoske denied the request.
The second concern is tougher to deal with. Lots of us are worried about having to work forever, because a major component of your retirement financial life — your Thrift Savings Plan account — is melting away in the armpit of a bear market. I’m with you. I’m expecting my Medicare card in the mail any day. I don’t have the nerve to even look at my 401 K accounts.
Today, for the third time this week, the New York Stock Exchange “circuit breakers” tripped, forcing 15 minute halts in trading. This only minutes after the markets opened. The European travel ban apparently didn’t help.
Relative to a month ago, the TSP’s C, S, and I funds have dropped a lot. So have the L2030, 2040, and 2050 funds.
In some ways, the market panic is worse than the thought of coronavirus itself.
There’s no dearth of advice out there. A good summary comes from Kristina Hooper, the chief global market strategist at Invesco, as quoted in Marketwatch.com. “Intermittent purchases on down days throughout the volatility could make sense for investors with longer time horizons.” In other words, buy. If you make regular, payroll deduction contributions, keep doing it. You’re buying low.
Luckily basic job security is less of a concern for federal employees than for contractors that support federal missions. Job worry is apparently widespread. A network called Blind lets people communicate anonymously about work issues. It surveyed members, many at famous companies, and found more than half of professionals have job security doubts, and nearly two-thirds expect their incomes to be hurt by the pandemic.
Kay Thompson was not only the author of the “Eloise” children’s book series — she was a “jill” of all trades. She was an actress, a vocal coach for Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Marlene Dietrich and Lucille Ball; a friend and mentor to Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli; and at her peak the highest-paid cabaret performer of all time.