Shutting down the shutdown

You don’t have to be a long-time fed to have been through numerous government shutdowns or shutdown threats. The last one, just last month, lasted about 69 hours (from Saturday midnight to Monday afternoon).

The next one, if it happens, is schedules to start Feb. 9 and end …


Most people, even those who profess to or who really hate government, bureaucrats or the existence of Washington, D.C., really don’t like partial shutdowns for a variety of reasons. Up to and including the fact that the people who didn’t (because they couldn’t) work still get paid. The most recent mini-shutdown was different in that high profile things — like admissions of National Parks, which are normally closed — were permitted. The TV shots of signs saying “Closed Because of Government Shutdown” were from the 2013 shutdown.

The media, which whatever it says loves shutdowns and the runup to them, reports on frantic bargaining, fighting and negotiating. But what does that even mean? Politicians fight with words, soundbites and tweets. Some of the toughest shutdown fighters are groups representing federal workers, postal employees, government retirees and professionals from the IRS and the FAA to the ranks of the Senior Executive Service. While these groups don’t always work together, when they do, it is impressive. And usually very effective. Last year, it appeared that valuable parts of the federal civil service (CSRS and FERS) retirement program were going to be changed: Costing you more while you worked and giving you less when you retired. Despite a strong push from the White House and House Republicans, the CSRS and FERS programs skated through 2017 without a scratch.

The same coalition forms up each time there is a government shutdown threat. Most people have no idea how it works or that it even exists. Federal and postal unions, the NTEU, AFGE, NFFE, NALC, APWU and NARFE also work Capitol Hill, sending their legislative people to talk with congressional staffers and members of the House and Senate. Here’s an insider look from one member group, the Professional Managers Association, to its members. It was sent earlier this week:

“Legislative: Does anyone want to talk about the elephant in the room? Here we are again at the ticking of the clock to another deadline for the budget and if I’m not mistaken, this will be the fifth time this fiscal year. As we did in January, everyone is wondering if it will be another short-term ‘Continuing Resolution’ or a ‘Shutdown.’ With just 4 days to go, I’m at a loss to tell you which one is going to happen. This is particularly troublesome since I spent most of morning on Thursday meeting with the staffs of Senators Lankford, Hoeven and McCaskill. In the afternoon, the group visited the Legislative Assistants of Senators Daines and Heitcamp. In none of those meetings was anyone willing to put forth an educated guess as to which one it would be, Shutdown or CR. Folks this is not a pretty situation.

“In each of the morning meetings we, the Government Managers Coalition, which is made up of executives from each of the following groups. The Senior Executive Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Social Security Managers Association the Federal Managers Association and PMA. The discussion revolved around the following issues which are important to each of our groups. They involved the ‘two year probationary period,’ ‘Mandatory Manager Training,’ the ongoing ‘Agency Reorganization’ and ‘Hiring Authority.’ In each of these situations, we explained to the staff that we were meeting with, how each of these items impact us in a very negative way. For example, having to make a decision to keep or let an employee go that may or may not make the grade at the one year point in time. With regards to manager training, I mentioned that there have been instances where a person is selected as a manager and a year or more later, they have not been to manager training. In the area of hiring, first you have to have a budget to hire and then you would like to see people that are the ‘best and brightest’ not the bottom of the barrel but with all the bad press, low grades, no pay increases and unfunded performance plans, it’s hard to get anyone to apply. Finally, we talked about our support for the legislation that would raise the buyout limits from the current outdated $25,000 to $40,000 which is what DoD has done. By the way, DoD has also increased their probationary period to ‘two’ years as well.

“With the majority of Congress out in West Virginia for a retreat, there is not much legislative activity and as a result there is also not much COMPROMISING going on as well. Thursday, Feb. 8 will come very quickly when they all get back to DC on Monday the 5th. (The other side of the Congress is on retreat this week and will return on Feb. 9). To make matters worse, because of declining federal tax receipts, the debt ceiling is going to be reached sooner than expected, but no later than the first of March. The current limit is $20 TRILLION and some in Congress are advocating for the elimination of the ceiling altogether. So I guess that means just spend and worry about paying for it later. As the head of a family, just like many of you, this may work for a little while, but then you have to ‘pay the piper.’ In round numbers, we bring in $3.5 trillion, we spend $4.5 trillion, so we are adding about $1 trillion every year and that’s a good year. Somehow the government needs to get this under control because that is a lot of money for every man, woman and child in this country to owe.”

Other than that, no big deal!

TSP Changes:  Big changes are coming for the 5.1 million active and retired feds and military personnel with Thrift Savings Plan accounts.  The major one involves making it easier for TSP participants to make withdrawals from their accounts. Current rigid withdrawal rules are one of the primary reasons that 40 percent of the people who leave government withdraw all their money from the $542.4 billion retirement account.  Today at 10 a.m., on our Your Turn show, Kim Weaver, director of External Affairs for the TSP, talks about the changes, and what people shouldn’t be doing — as in panicking — because of the nose-dive the stock markets took on Monday.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Monty Hall, longtime host of the Let’s Make a Deal game show, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Source: Wikipedia