Shutdown shrinks paychecks

Government shutdowns, like a gym membership, are the gift that, for some unlucky civil servants, keeps on giving. For example, after the record-long, 35-day “partial” shutdown people are finally getting paid, whether they were required to work or forced to stay home.

That’s the good news.

But this is Washington, right? That means that almost every bit of news contains some bad stuff. But you knew that, right?

The bad news is that the delayed payments people have started to get are, in many cases, pretty screwed up. On Jan. 29 this column warned feds to prepare for minuscule post-shutdown paychecks.

Unfortunately, bad news often gets more attention than the good, therefore that column received a lot of traction. But some readers doubted that the example we used was a good one. It was from an IRS worker who told of a fed friend who got a partial payment during the shutdown. The amount was supposed to be about $1,000 but after deductions his net pay was $27.

It didn’t seem right but it was. And now a lot of people are living or are about to experience the same financial nightmare when they get their back pay — what’s left of it, that is.

Feb. 4’s Washington Post had an excellent, in-depth piece spanning four columns about the post-shutdown glitches federal agencies and the workers who make things function are enduring.

In one example, the Post cited an Agriculture Department meat inspector who was required to work overtime during the shutdown. She was expecting a lump-sum back paycheck of $9,000 but instead, the Post reported, “she got $250.”

Some of the peanut-sized paychecks are the result of problems with the National Finance Center. Although it is a USDA operation it handled many federal agencies, including those that were partially shut down and those that mostly operated normally. A spokesman for the NFC said it was given only two days to process two full paycheck cycles.

The back pay was due to 600,000 workers and the Center had to modify its systems to process 1.3 million disbursements that the Post said were worth $5 billion. This is a politically triggered problem left to career feds to fix, and it can only get more complicated before it gets better or back to normal.

The Post also reported a split paycheck personality situation at the Census Bureau. What happened is that employees who were forced to stay home during the shutdown got their back pay in full last week. Ironically, those who were forced to come to work are still waiting.

Maybe this is what Mom meant when she said, “Be careful what you wish for because you may get it!”

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

America’s largest national park site, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, is larger than Switzerland. But the smallest national park site, Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia, measures just 0.02 acres.

Source: NPS

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