Federal Times is trying to keep a close eye on the government shutdown, and we’d like to hear more from the federal employees who are going to be most affected by it.
Have you heard yet whether you’re furloughed or not? How did you find out? What’s the mood like in your office? Are you angry that you’re going to be made to work without pay until Congress and the White House resolve their differences? Are you worried that losing pay during a furlough will make it tough to make ends meet?
E-mail me at email@example.com if you’d like to talk. (And since you aren’t supposed to access your work e-mail during a shutdown, it’ll probably be best to include additional contact information.)
Tags: government shutdown
Federal unions are still in the dark on agencies’ overall shutdown plans, but individual employees are starting to get the bad news about their furloughs. National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley just told me that early this afternoon, some of her members began verbally hearing from their supervisors whether they will be furloughed or retained during a shutdown. Others will receive letters this evening or tomorrow, she said.
“Typically, the smaller the agency, the quicker the information gets out,” Kelley said. “Tomorrow is the day when employees will really know.”
Kelley said she’s not sure how many people at agencies such as the IRS are being told whether they are furloughed. But she said the IRS is keeping “a substantial workforce” in place to keep operating toll-free help lines for taxpayers trying to finalize their tax returns. On the other hand, as OMB’s Jeffrey Zients said earlier, the IRS will close 400 walk-in taxpayer service centers.
Tags: government shutdown
More evidence–as if more were needed–that this government spending standoff is getting serious: the Office of Management and Budget has just posted a 16-page memo for shutdown planning on its web site. Lots of technical advice for agencies on topics like travel, IT operations and contracting.
The latest stopgap spending resolution expires at midnight Friday. If Congress appears unlikely to enact a new one Saturday, OMB will issue instructions the same day “for agencies to proceed with their shutdown implementation,” Director Jack Lew wrote in the memo. On one burning question, OMB leaves it up to agencies to decide whether furloughed employees will have to turn in their BlackBerries.
The collateral damage from the increasingly-likely government shutdown is spreading. The Office of Management and Budget has decided that permits issued by the National Park Service will be revoked if there’s a shutdown, complicating matters for the National Cherry Blossom Parade and George Washington Parkway Classic race.
The Cherry Blossom Festival said they’re still planning to hold the parade Saturday and said “all possible avenues will be pursued to move ahead with the parade as scheduled.” But the kite festival and performances on the Washington Monument grounds will be canceled if the government shuts down.
And Sunday’s Parkway Classic is almost certain to be postponed in the event of a shutdown. The organizers have been trying to find a backup plan to keep the 5-kilometer and 10-mile races on schedule. (Full disclosure: I was planning on running the race too.) The race begins at Mount Vernon and continues up the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which is operated by the National Park Service.
But race director Kathy Dalby said in an interview that the chance of getting an exemption permitting the event to go on “does not look good.”
“It all comes down to the permit,” Dalby said.
The race also relies on about 35 Park Police officers to set up barricades, provide security and run traffic control, and Dalby said that trying to get local police to fill in on such short notice “would be quite the logistical nightmare.”
The race will probably be rescheduled for May 1. Dalby said that if the government is still shut down by then, they’re working on an alternative plan to run the race entirely in the city limits of Alexandria, Va.
“The race will go on, one way or another,” Dalby said. “Just maybe at a later date.”
Tags: government shutdown
If the government shuts down this week, most Department of Homeland Security employees will continue working.
DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie said 80 percent of the department’s 230,000 workforce will continue to carry out mission critical duties, such as securing the borders, screening cargo and airline passengers and operating and securing systems that support these activities.
“We’re working with the guidance, and we’re working with our business and mission partners to identify those systems that have to stay up,” said Richard Spires, DHS’ chief information officer. ”We’re prepared, and we will keep those systems running.”
That includes determining which contracts are mission critical.
Communications between “excepted” and “non-excepted” employees will flow through a chain of command. For example, higher-level officials will contact the next in command and so on. Calls will go to personal phones if employees are required to turn in their government-issued phones.
Tags: government shutdown
Stressed out over the increasingly-likely government shutdown and furlough? You deserve a laugh. Take a few minutes and read over this shutdown FAQ humorist Mim Landry posted on April Fool’s Day. (It’s probably got more useful information than the Obama administration has given unions so far.)
The whole thing is golden, but here’s a few of my favorites:
What is a furlough? A furlough involves placing an employee in temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of a lack of work or funds or other nondisciplinary reasons. During a furlough, federal government employees are prohibited from conducting official work duties, if any. For some employees, the difference between nonduty and duty is negligible.
Can I work as an exotic dancer during the furlough to make ends meet? Your federal government fully supports your desire to work as an exotic dancer to make ends meet. Simply provide your supervisor the address and performance timings and we’re good.
Do furloughed federal employees get paid? Yes. Federal employees will receive retroactive pay following the furlough. But it may be in rupees.
What about zombies? Since they are technically deceased, zombies pay only sporadic attention to the news and information sources such as telephones and e-mail. They are typically disorganized. Thus, they may not fully appreciate the fact that there has been a government shutdown. [...]
Note that zombies are nearly always considered nonessential personnel and will thus be barred from entering federal government property.
- Health benefits and life insurance coverage will continue during a shutdown, as long as the shutdown doesn’t last more than a year.
- But furloughed employees may lose their long-term care, dental and vision coverage. The guidance says “deductions will cease for non-excepted employees” — that is, those who are furloughed. OPM said it will provide information on how furloughed employees can continue long-term care, dental and vision coverage by Friday. I’ve asked OPM for confirmation on this and will update the blog when they get back to me.
- Any paid leave — annual, sick or otherwise — will be canceled. Meaning you still won’t come in to work, but you won’t be paid for those days.
- As expected, it will be up to Congress to decide whether furloughed employees will be paid for the shutdown time. It happened last time, but given the prominence of deficit hawks in Congress these days — and the general hostility towards federal employees in some quarters — it may not happen this time.
- If an excepted employee refuses to report for work, he will be considered absent without leave and subject to any AWOL penalties.
- Federal employees’ pensions — including calculation of the high-3 — won’t be affected unless the shutdown lasts for more than six months.
More information can be found in this Q&A we posted in February.
In an interview with CNN, David Stockman, former Office of Management and Budget director in the Reagan Administration, was asked if he thinks congressional leaders will forgo a budget deal and allow a government shutdown to happen this week. And if a shutdown does happen, what would it accomplish?
“The Republicans need to man-up and shut the government down. They have been bloviating for 30 years about cutting spending and have done almost nothing.”
He went on to say:
“And the government needs a shut-down crisis because both parties are dream walking. Sadly enough, we actually need a violent spasm in the financial markets to wake-up the politicians if we are to have any hope of confronting the colossal fiscal threat facing the nation.”
Warning: Killjoy alert!
As you all know (because you’re probably reading this from your office instead of your home), Congress last week struck a deal to keep government operating for another two weeks. So here we are today, the first Monday into the new CR, and federal agencies are operating, citizens are getting their government services, and feds are getting paid. What’s not to love about that?
According to today’s excellent-but-depressing blog post by former Capitol Hill staffer and Wall Street consultant Peter Davis, plenty. Davis dissects the predicament we find ourselves in and concludes that the big-picture budget outlook is bleak and reflects a complete dysfunction at the policy level…
Continuing resolutions: Are we there yet?
No! We’re not there yet. We’re not even sure where there is yet. The NFL talks are going better.
So far, for the whopping price of $4.1 billion of easy pickings, $2.7 billion of Administration proposals that had no chance of enactment anyway plus $1.7 billion of earmarks, we funded two more weeks of FY11. Wait a minute. That’s last year’s budget.
Right. We still don’t have a budget for FY11, which we are more than five months into. No budget resolution passed Congress last year, and no regular appropriations did either. The only FY11 appropriations have been continuing resolutions and a supplemental.
So what about the FY12 budget? President Obama presented his FY12 Budget a week late, partly because Jack Lew’s confirmation as OMB Director was held hostage to speeding up Gulf drilling permits. That pushed back CBO’s Analysis of the Presidents Budget, until the end of March or early April. That usually produces the baseline the Budget Committees use, but there’s no way to produce a baseline anyway because no one can say what FY11 will be. Therefore, the Budget Committees won’t produce budget resolutions until mid-April at the earliest or May. That won’t matter too much because there’s little chance the House and Senate could agree to a joint resolution. If each house passes its own budget resolution that would be enough to launch the appropriations process. If not, each house will probably pass a “deeming resolution” to set the overall level of discretionary spending for the appropriations process. In the end, without a joint budget resolution, it will be very difficult to enact any appropriations, because each bill will look very different than the one that passed the other house, if any bills pass.
Worse still, the options for getting out of this mess offer little cause for hope, as Davis sees it:
So with no FY11 appropriations beyond midnight, March 18, no budget baseline, no prospect for a budget resolution until May, and the only way to avoid a government shutdown or default on our debt is to do something, what is that something? “Kick the can down the road” is one option. Just pass another 2-week CR. Start passing 2-week debt limit increases. Ah, but that may not be good enough for most of the 87 Republican House freshmen. They may balk at playing that game. They’ll demand more spending cuts and budget process reforms and may a constitutional balanced budget amendment as their price for a long-term budget deal or debt limit increase. Now we’re talking about a game of chicken because Senate Democrats and President Obama will balk at spending cuts that large or budget process reforms that can’t be enforced.
Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) has called for a budget summit as in 1990 at Andrews Air Force Base. Get all the principals in the room, including the President, and lock the door until they agree. Republicans don’t look back too fondly on the 1990 result, which included substantial tax increases that got President George H.W. Bush unelected in 1992. The whole point of failing to resolve today’s budget impasse is to avoid getting unelected.
What to do? The”Gang of Six” senators who served on the President’s Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission continue to meet behind the scenes, hoping to come up with a bipartisan compromise. The Commission’s recommendations were forthright and full of politically dangerous ideas, like cutting Medicare, raising the Social Security retirement age and getting rid of tax expenditures, i.e. raising taxes. By taking on entitlements and taxes, the largest sources of potential deficit reduction, they showed the way. However, no one is following, at least so far. Hopefully, the “Gang of Six” senators can reach agreement, but my sources aren’t encouraging yet. Even if they do agree, it’s likely to be on broad principles, not on specifics that might kill reelection chances.
Davis concludes the way out is for leaders of both political stripes to — get this — show some leadership and take on the real problems underlying the deficit that no one wants to talk about. Unfortunately, that may take a while.
Hopefully, it won’t take longer than 11 days, 12 hours and 5 minutes from now (when the current continuing resolution expires) . . . .
By the way, my personal favorite option to all this is the Kent Conrad “budget summit” solution: lock up the president and congressional leaders in a room until they strike a deal. But what venue would offer the best hope of a quick solution?
The possible government shutdown is worrying federal employees across the nation, but at least one hopes to turn a furlough into a force for good.
Dan Freeman, a Justice Department civil rights attorney, has started a webpage called The Shutdown Startup that aims to find volunteer opportunities for furloughed feds. “No one wants a shutdown,” the site says. “But if it happens, we’ll still be ready to serve.”
It’s still a very fledgling movement. Freeman and his cohorts acknowledge there are plenty of logistical challenges to overcome, and are looking for volunteers to help coordinate the program and spread the word. The group also wants to partner with nonprofit and service organizations that can take on volunteering feds, or point them towards meaningful service opportunities. But it’s starting to attract followers to its Facebook page.
Freeman said he and his friends came up with the idea at a party a few weeks ago, after a Senate staffer there said a shutdown was bound to happen. “Public service was why I moved here,” he said. “It was upsetting to me that I wouldn’t be able to do my job.”
Freeman has also been bothered by the negative depictions of federal employees lately, and hopes Shutdown Startup will help counter that image. “We think those depictions are wrong,” Freeman said. “If we’re effective, we’ll prove them wrong, rather than countering them with rhetoric. People who work for the government are public servants, and work in jobs because they care about their country and community.”