Should astronauts be furloughed, too?

If one of the next furloughs happens while a team of American astronauts are heading for the Moon, or about to land on Mars, will they be forced to abort their mission and return to Earth? Hold that thought.

Furloughs in the private sector are serious events, usually bad things that happen for good reasons. They are often used as last resort, maybe to save (salary) money or maybe as the last gasp of a profit-making organization trying to remain afloat. Which lets Uncle Sam off the hook!

In the federal government — maybe the largest nonprofit on Earth — it is different. Furloughs-in-government happen mostly because politicians are lazy, stupid, vindictive and have little imagination, or compassion for “losers” who, like themselves, get a government paycheck.

For members of the House, Senate and White House (who cause or allow furloughs to happen) the paychecks continue to flow while 800,000 rank-and-file feds are temporarily cut off.  See Thursday’s column for a look at the numbers.

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Congress almost never approves all, or sometimes any agency appropriations thereby forcing the government, year-after-year, to run on short-term continuing resolutions. The CRs have gone from being rare but helpful tools to keep the lights on, to very inefficient and nerve-wracking tools that allow members of Congress to spend more time away from Washington politicking so they can return to Washington for another two to six years. CRs also make it possible for presidents both past and present, Democrats and Republicans, to use shutdowns as bargaining chips to prove a point or bash bureaucrats.

The last shutdown cost an estimated $13 billion. But if you went into debt, went hungry or missed a mortgage or rent payment it cost you even more. And in the end, after a record 35 days, the people who had to work got paid — late. But so did the people forced to say home. They didn’t work, or couldn’t work, but got paid anyhow. Go figure?

Furloughs also create some stupid, expensive situations. People who are on official travel or assignment must, if furloughed, return home. Even they are immediately sent back on the road or to an assignment. People who are on vacation have to stop and go from paid fun time to unpaid enforced leisure. There are a lot of ways that furloughs are just plain dumb, expensive and counterintuitive.  For example, one Navy employee who has a “GRIP” (Get Rid of Incumbent Politicians) policy shared how he and his organization spent the last furlough:

“Mike, I work for a Navy Working Capital Funding facility. We are not directly on the budget, we get task funding from the NAVSEA and direct fleet funding. We are not a direct line item in the budget so I have never been furloughed because of a budget impasse, only when the sequestration furloughs happened.

“Funny thing — it was our branch that killed the furloughs here. We directly support the surface fleet. Normally to start the ship check on Monday they travel on Sunday, and work through the week and finish up on Friday. During the sequestration furloughs, instead of traveling to a ship on Sunday they went on Monday, worked Tuesday, Wednesday and went home on Thursday and furloughed on Friday. Then [they] repeated that pattern the next week and sometimes another week to finish what is normally a one-week shipcheck. Not exactly supporting the fleet, and they complained, which cut the furloughs to less than the maximum number we were supposed to have.

“As far as the board of directors (Congress) not doing their primary job, they years ago changed the [fiscal year] end date from June 30 to Sept. 30 to give them more time to complete a budget. Then they start their vacation on the July Fourth week and that effectually takes most if not all of the three months they said they needed to be able to craft a budget.

“I have one solution to the problem, which I admit has constitutional issues in that they lose their pay, after Sept. 30 if there is no complete budget, staying in session 24/7 until there is one. Continuing resolutions should be outlawed. I’m beginning to think that in order to pass a complete budget, they need term limits, but they will never pass that on themselves.

“I’m not really a Democrat or Republican, but subscribe to the GRIP [policy], where you always vote the incumbent out of office even if you have to hold your nose to do it. The next time the last winner is the incumbent to be voted out, until the people running realize that it is the people who vote them in, not the special interest funding they now get to get reelected. It is that philosophy which is why I am currently registered as Democrat in New Jersey.

“I originally was registered as an independent, and could not vote in a primary unless I voted in a primary and then became registered as a member of the party I voted for during a primary. In New Jersey, the vast majority of primaries are what I call beauty contests, where only the people on the ballot need to vote for themselves to win. I became a Democrat only because they were the first to have a contested primary instead of a vote one, only one-party blessed contestant. I used GRIP in that primary to get rid of the incumbent mayor. Unfortunately, most of the people here in N.J. are political sheep who only vote for one party. In N.J. that means mainly Democrats. Following the GRIP philosophy, I vote Republican, to try and vote the incumbent out, but the political sheep keep out voting me.” — Surviving in New Jersey

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

“Sesame Street” got its name from show writer Virginia Schone at the last minute. Production staff struggled to land on a title that would be easy for children to remember, capture its educational mission and describe its urban setting without isolating viewers outside of New York City. The name “1-2-3 Avenue B” was a serious contender. Almost everyone on the staff disliked the name but eventually, Executive Producer Dave Connell put out a memo saying, “If nobody comes up with a better idea, as of Monday we were going to call it ‘Sesame Street.’” The word Sesame was inspired by the phrase from the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” which unlocks a cave of magical treasures; in the words of Kermit the Frog, “It kind of gives the idea of a street where neat stuff happens.”

Source: Sesame Workshop

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