Inconvenience, annoyance and little to do

October 6, 2013

 Last week’s partial government shutdown reordered routines and generated plenty of commentary, online and otherwise. Here are some samples:

‘We’re kind of just sitting here, watching and waiting’

For many local companies, the shutdown wasn’t so much about what happened as what didn’t happen.

Take Run! Geek! Run!, the annual 8K race at West Potomac Park to benefit the charitable arm of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. In previous years, teams from Deltek, LMI, Gibson Dunn and Houlihan Lokey turned up for the race.

This year, the race was postponed, with no sign of an end to the shutdown.

Evan Weisel, who came up with the idea for the race years ago, said organizers would like to reschedule it for November — but can’t even firm up a date until the National Park Service is back at work.

“We’re kind of just sitting here, watching and waiting like everybody else,” he said.

Meanwhile, this reporter was set to moderate a panel discussion on big data organized by the White House, but the event was shelved early in the week. The gathering, the organizers said, will likely be rescheduled for November.

— Marjorie Censer

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Sarah Bolton @sarahwbolton 5h 3 Oct

It’s official. 1.5 days of #furlough and I’m bored out of my mind.

***

At Z-Burger, offer of free food left eatery overwhelmed

Federal workers and government contractors who faced furloughs because of the government shutdown could take advantage of plenty of discounts from area bars and restaurants — at least for a while.

Before agencies closed their doors, Peter Tabibian, co-founder of the Washington restaurant chain Z-Burger, said that those who presented their ID card could grab a free burger. He didn’t anticipate the overwhelming demand, however, as lines outside some stores extended 200 people deep.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this kind of response,” Tabibian said. “I said, ‘If these guys don’t go back to work, I’m going to go out of business.’”

But he couldn’t wait that long.By Thursday night, Tabibian decided to end the promotion. His locations in Arlington, Southwest, Tenleytown and Columbia Heights had given away roughly $88,000 worth of food.

“I just feel so bad that I made a promise and I have to back out of it,” Tabibian said. “I didn’t initially think it was going to close down for this long and I wasn’t prepared with the staff that goes with it. My staff is just getting burned out every day doing extra work.”

— Steven Overly

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Glen’s Garden Market ‏@GlensGardenMkt 2 Oct

Furloughed gov’t folks, your first round is on us from 10am-12pm today. All-local drafts, all-local snark. #shutdown2013 #furlough

Gibbs & Cox boss optimistic, but not sure if he can remain so

Richard Biben felt prepared. The chief executive of a naval engineering and architecture firm in Arlington has been readying for a potential shutdown, including leaving unfilled about a dozen positions and taking out a line of credit to pay his employees’ salaries, even if contract funding slows.

His management team met daily last week — discussing news from the Navy, updates from a trade group called the National Defense Industrial Association and even rumors from staff. Only one Gibbs & Cox employee worked at a closed federal office, so most of the staff could get to their work spaces.

But by Friday, optimism was getting harder to sustain. Biben drafted an e-mail to employees in an effort to keep them posted. “We’ve got funds that’ll go for a while,” he said. But, “I can’t define for you how long a while is.”

As time goes on, Biben said, the situation will get worse and the options will narrow. Still, Biben isn’t spending all of his time evaluating the financial impacts of the shutdown; he said he hasn’t stopped looking for acquisition targets.

“I’m going to continue investigating and [doing] due diligence,” Biben said. But “I know I’m not going to close on anything … in the next couple of weeks.”

— M.C.

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Jay Schwarz ‏@dctexag 1 Oct

Federal service protip: the job tends to be secure, the pay not necessarily

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Shutdown kept Defense Dept.’s Early bird in its cage

Information geeks went wanting last week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t issue its planned federal jobs report on Friday, and defense industry executives found their inboxes a little bit emptier when the Defense Department’s Early Bird — a compilation of news items on national security that goes out first thing every morning — didn’t fly.

“I don’t know how a lot of industry executives and some journalists are doing their job without the Pentagon’s clipping service,” said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant.

— M.C.

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S.K. Morgan Ernest ‏@skmorgane 2 Oct

Tracking down climate reports for a research project. Keep running into ‘closed by congress’ USFS, USGS, & NOAA websites. Sigh. #shutdown.

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Reality of contractors not getting back pay begins to sting

Debra Graham works alongside federal employees at the Census Bureau’s Suitland office, where she writes documents such as user guides for agency software.

Just like government workers, Graham is furloughed, even though she’s actually an employee at Largo-based IT contractor Erimax. (Eric Franklin, the company’s president and chief executive, said the company has “been devastated,” both by sequestration and the shutdown).

While she’s out of the office, Graham is using her free time to help out her incapacitated neighbor and meeting with coworkers for bridge — which they normally play each day at the office during lunch.

But what gnaws at her is that even if federal workers are reimbursed for their time off, she knows that as a contractor, she will not be.

“There’s a lot of people like me,” Graham said. “We’re just going to be out, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

— M.C.

— M.C.

***

‘If nobody’s home, there’s nobody home’

At the Professional Services Council in Arlington, staff members at the industry group for government contractors were trying to help beleaguered member companies — but frankly didn’t have a lot of ways to help.

Some companies had called the organizations before the shutdown, looking for tips on preparation or advice on how to handle contracts, said Stan Soloway, PSC’s president.

But for those that waited until after the shutdown, there was little that could be done. Most, Soloway said, had received direction for their employees on Oct. 1 — instructions that in some cases contradicted Office of Management and Budget guidance.

“Once the shutdown happens, there’s very little opportunity to discuss, negotiate or otherwise fix something,” Soloway said. “If nobody’s home, there’s nobody home.”

— M.C.

****

At one bar, being disgruntled about shutdown pays off

Dupont Circle bar and restaurant Thomas Foolery welcomes a curmudgeonly crowd from 5 to 7 p.m. each evening, rewarding patrons who order in a surly tone with $1 off each drink.

“If you smile, we make you do it again. You have to actually convince the bartender that you are indeed angry,” owner Steve Davis said.

“It should be extra easy this week.”

With the shutdown sending disgruntled federal workers and contractors to the bar earlier than usual, Thomas Foolery extended its “Angry Hour” from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day the government is closed. The bar has seen its largest daytime crowds to date, as a result.

Thomas Foolery opened just three months ago with a childish gimmick — its menu includes such items as grilled cheese and ice cream sandwiches, and the restaurant is stocked with games from hopscotch to Mario Kart. For a new business, any uptick in foot traffic is welcome.

“Most people do not benefit from this” shutdown, he said. “We definitely get a small benefit from it.”

— S.O.

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John Spears ‏@JohnJSpears2 Oct

#furlough day 2. Alright, I’m ready to go back to work. #congress get your act together and fund the government.

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