Ironic: Commission on public service to release ideas during shutdown

Sometimes I wish we covered sports. Thanks to the NFL, last weekend provided two interesting battles leading to Superbowl LIII. At least when watching football you can’t be sure how it will come out.

Not so for the Trump-Pelosi exchange. Thus the month-old partial government shutdown grips the capital as surely as the cold snap we’re shivering through.

The shutdown and the impending Superbowl sort of converged. The president might’ve been alluding to the New England-Kansas City game when he tweeted “GREAT PATRIOTS.” But no. He was referring instead to the 800,000 furloughed or unpaid federal employees. They’ve regularly been called political “footballs.”

But all of the praise and sympathy expressed by the politicians for federal employees doesn’t do much for the stalemate. Or the mounting and justifiable bitterness many employees feel. Or the growing financial and economic impacts of the P.G.S.

The legislative prospects for this week aren’t promising either. The Senate is finally rejoining the fray with expected legislation that has border wall funding and provisions for the children of illegal immigrants. The House will offer a variety of funding bills that don’t include the wall.

As the shutdown goes on, governors are urging Congress to extend the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family program. Initial public offerings are stalled because the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is only partially available. Halted government travel is cutting revenues to airlines with General Services Administration city pair contracts — while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) sickout expands.

Inexplicably, the State Department, perhaps looking under its collection of Davenport furniture, found enough money to pay people for two weeks starting today.

It all makes public service seem like not much of a bargain.

The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service has been for the last year looking at the military draft and ways, in its words, “to increase participation in military, national and public service to strengthen our nation.” On Wednesday morning, the congressionally chartered commission will present some of the ideas it’s thinking about.

That’s like revealing a new suntan lotion during a snowstorm.

I won’t steal the commission’s thunder, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the commission will point out the poor quality and quantity of basic civic education the country’s young people are getting. You’ve no doubt seen the videos, lovingly preserved on YouTube, of former late night comic Jay Leno giving citizenship tests to random people on the streets outside his TV studio. They’re more pathetic than funny.

Brig. Gen. Joe Heck, Army Reserve, chairman, National National Commission on Military, National and Public Service

It’s hard to engender a sense of public service in people who don’t understand what they’re serving.

The chairman of the commission is physician and Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Joe Heck, also a former Nevada congressman. I met him for the first time during the ceremonies for the 2018 Presidential Rank Award winners in December. Heck said the national emphasis on science and math education and other topics has crowded out civics. I personally wonder whether many academic circles and school districts consider civics corny or irrelevant.

Heck told me the commission is most decidedly aware of the timing irony of its interim report roll out. But he’s not going to dwell on it. He, like everyone, figures the shutdown is going to end eventually.

People considering public service — or hoping to stay in it — certainly know the difference between what they do and what the politicians do. Intransigence and accusing the other side of intransigence, why, we’ve heard that forever. The name calling, the rancor, it’s all part of the game. But the game isn’t supposed to cause … this purgatory.

It may sound ironic under the circumstances, but the stalemate is only a more exaggerated occurrence of something built into the three-branch system. The system that people coming out of civics classes are supposed to understand.

We don’t have an executive who can dictate. Nor do we have absolute rule by majority. Checks and balances, baby, checks and balances.

But I think we’re all ready to see a little less check and a little more balance.

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