Defense employees try to keep spirits up with furlough run

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(Courtesy of Sean Littles)

Beth Flores likes to spend her lunch hours cooking up clever ideas with co-worker Christel Fonzo Eberhard, but few of their plans ever panned out until recently.

The two Defense Department employees, both of whom work in the office of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, once invited Ellen DeGeneres to visit the Pentagon as a show of support for the troops, promising a pair of roller skates if the television host appeared. DeGeneres never replied.

Nonetheless, the duo found takers for their latest plan: An unofficial “fun run” for furlough-struck feds. About 80 people signed up for the 5-mile jog, which took place Monday.

“This is just one in a line of cockamamie ideas we’ve had,” Flores said. “It was just people getting together to have fun and let off steam.”

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(Courtesy of Sean Littles)

Monday’s event marked the first of 11 furlough days for hundreds of thousands of civilian Defense workers who face unpaid leave as a result of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. (Federal employees: Don’t forget to submit your Furloughed Files for publication in the Washington Post).

Eleven days off work equates to a 20 percent pay cut between now and the end of the fiscal year for the military’s civilian employees. To make light of that fact, the run organizers moved the expected finish line to the 80 percent mark of the route, which was supposed to stretch from the Pentagon to the Capitol.

“This is what 80% feels like,” read a banner at the finish line, located partway between the Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn Museum. Similarly, a logo for the event said: “Serving the nation … 80% of the time.”

(Courtesy of Sean Littles) - The "Policy Gorilla" slaps hands with a Furlough Five Mile Fun Run participant.
(Courtesy of Sean Littles) – The “Policy Gorilla” slaps hands with a Furlough Five Mile Fun Run participant.

Flores created a Facebook page to provide workers with a forum to vent and talk about how they spend their days off. The site had about 150 members on Sunday, but the number had grown to more than 1,200 by Tuesday night.

Feeds on the page showed a broad range of reactions.

“I work hard to support my family, and now, through no fault of my own, we are losing a large chunk of our income because the people that are supposed to be running our country don’t know how to do so,” said Jaimi Wiser Gutshall.

“There are 14 of us riding our motorcycles to Niagara Falls next Friday,” said Kerry Grant. “That’s how you spend your furlough day!”

Organizers of the run insist they’re not pointing fingers or trying to engage in political rhetoric over the sequester. Flores said they just want to do something proactive, despite feeling powerless over their situation.

“People understand this is a political drama being played out, and we’re caught up in it,” Flores said. “It seems to me the country has to make some tough decisions, and our elected leaders haven’t done it. I’m hoping that’ll change soon.”

Flores plans to organize similar events throughout the remainder of the furlough period, which lasts until October. She said she is contemplating matinees, barbecues, dog-park meet-ups, and even a day at King’s Dominion.

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(Courtesy of Sean Littles)

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · July 9, 2013