‘Unfortunately, that day has come.” ¶ Michael Conley stands at the head of a conference room table, surrounded by his agency’s soon-to-be-furloughed staff. He is grave. But also reassuring. Out of the 21 people in this room, he will be the only one reporting for work tomorrow. “The OMB,” he intones, “has put out the direction to put an orderly shutdown in process.” ¶ The government shutdown, in theory, is abstract, ominous, a cantankerous wheeze of congressional incompetence. The government shutdown, in practice, is a tedious process for beleaguered federal employees. It is setting out-of-office messages. It is freezing agency Web sites. It is remembering to take home plants for watering, or squirreling away sensitive information in secure computer folders. It is 800,000 workers, most of whom had nothing to do with Congress’s dispute over the budget, being allotted precisely four hours with which to neatly tie up all their loose ends and then be sent home.
It is sessions like this 9 a.m. staff meeting Tuesday at the Arlington headquarters of the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission is one of hundreds of federal agencies, large and small, at which nonessential employees clocked out Tuesday. The ABMC is small. It administers 24 overseas military cemeteries and 26 memorials, monuments and markers. (It is in charge of Normandy’s American cemetery, so the shutdown is reaching France.)
Variations of this orderly shutdown occurred all through the Washington area on Tuesday. Preparations were not about working efficiently, but rather about efficiently not working: about checking off the dozens of banal tasks required to halt the U.S. government.
“The HR letters are being final-processed,” says Conley, the ABMC chief of staff. Once they have received their standard-issue furlough letters from Human Resources, once they have set their affairs in order, employees may go. They must go, in fact — everyone at the ABMC except for Conley and the 25-odd memorial superintendents around the world, who will remain on duty to continue basic grounds maintenance, must go. Because the government is closing.
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This is what an orderly shutdown looks like — the incremental process of stalling cubicle culture. This is how we implement the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the United States from paying out money before funds have been duly appropriated, which is what got us into this mess to begin with.
At the Navy Personnel Command
on South Courthouse Road in Arlington, civilians and military work side by side, cubicle by cubicle, in support jobs with titles such as resource officer, financial management analyst, diversity training officer. As of Tuesday, however, they are no longer on equal footing: All active-duty military personnel have been deemed essential employees, while most of their civilian colleagues are being sent home.
The some-will-stay, some-will-go landscape was creating angst during the orderly shutdown. “I wanted to personally tell you how regretful it is for me to even have to talk to you about this,” Vice Adm. William Moran told his staff at the morning shutdown meeting. “But you know why we’re all here.”