Impeachment hearings weren’t a distraction in 1998, will they be now?

The last time the House held impeachment hearings, there was no Facebook, no Twitter and the internet barely existed.

In fact, back in 1998, televisions in most federal offices were only for a select few executives. News of the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton could be avoided for the most part 21 years ago during the workday.

“As federal employee, we had work to do. I wasn’t paid to worry about the hearings,” said Glenn Schlarman, who spent 34 years in government working for the FBI, the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies before retiring in 2005. “I went home at night and I didn’t care about what happened. And on the job I was way too busy to worry about politics. I don’t remember employees talking about it. And if we had, we had a cadre of politicals who were smart enough to keep the career people out of it, and probably would’ve shut it down, figuratively, if we had discussed something politically in front of them. That really made the job simple.”

Today — as the House begins the impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump — is a lot different. Social media has the potential to be a major distraction. Video to employees’ laptops or desktops is ubiquitous. And, maybe most pronounced, the administration hasn’t exactly been a friend of the federal workforce.

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“It was a totally different environment and atmosphere at that time. We had a budget enacted. There was no hiring freeze. It was basically business as normal,” said Alan Balutis, who spent 28 years in the federal government, including leading the Commerce Department’s business and management office during the Clinton impeachment hearings. “Back in the 1990s, it wasn’t as challenging of a time to be a career civil servant. I think it will be much harder to ignore the impeachment hearings this time.”

Schlarman, Balutis and other long-time federal employees agreed that office decorum at the time just didn’t open the door to talk about the Clinton hearings.

“I didn’t feel the impeachment hearings had any effect on the operations of the government,” Balutis said. “Part of the reason was the president was intent on keeping the government running and fenced off from the impeach query by bringing in a separate group of people who were tasked with dealing with the issues.”

It’s a much different situation today than in 1998. Not only with the technology, but concerns about how the impeachment hearings could lead to another government shutdown and how the hearings are drawing in career civil servants.

Federal News Network wants to know if you think the impeachment hearings will impact your day-to day work? Will it be the talk of the water cooler—or whatever the 21st century version is? Or like in 1998, are federal employees just too busy to worry about what many see as congressional theater?

Please tell us what you think by answering our short, anonymous survey.

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