Federal workers respond on how default would affect them

July 26, 2011

Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson asked federal workers this week about how default would affect them, their jobs and their agencies. Below is a small sampling of the many responses we received, and we’re eager to hear more at washingtonpost.com/federaleye.

Many readers weighed in on their level of confidence that a default would be avoided:

Who will blink first? That’s what it’s all about. In the meantime, federal workers are the one’s taking the hit. We don’t mind making sacrifices but we do mind being used!

Interior Department employee

I’m pretty confident a default will be avoided only because I’m holding on to the thin hope that these elected officials really do have common sense and are aware of the dire consequences in the event of a default. This looks/feels like the furlough scare we recently had in the spring where Congress thought it would be cool to play chicken with 800,000 people. Thank God they went off the road in time.

Commerce Department employee

I think there’s a 50-50 chance the debt ceiling won’t be raised. I’m not convinced that even if the administration decides to forgo paying domestic obligations in order to not default on foreign obligations (i.e. Treasury bonds) that it would prevent a meltdown of the global economy.

Energy Department employee

Some federal workers spoke to knowing very little about specific agency-level plans for default. But a few noted details in some areas:

The USFS has instated a travel freeze and a hiring “pause” in preparation for any cuts made by Congress to avoid default. There is not much that the agency can do to prepare for default itself, since there is not exactly a way for the Forest Service to put money into a “savings account,” but measures are being taken so that if there is a budget cut, the agency can protect the majority of its current employees.

U.S. Forest Service employee

Locally they have already prepared layoff lists with priority of layoffs already set months ago . . . also scheduled lower hour changes and furlough days, I am sure are planned to come.

Defense Department employee

Finally, federal employees across agencies had a lot of common questions pointing to concern about the ongoing uncertainty:

How will the delay in resolution affect individuals (furlough, work but delayed payment, [etc.])? Also, how will the solution (any of the proposals) affect us in our personal life (pay, increased deductions, retirement plans)? I’ve tried to get a sense of what’s coming, but my senators and representative are mum (even though one is a member of the “Gang of Six”), and other senators (Sen. Reid’s office in particular) state they are only concerned with their constituents’ opinions and are not concerned with individuals who are not a member of their “district.”

Defense Department employee

[I need to hear] something, anything; the silence is ridiculous and very disconcerting. The rank and file have strict deadlines to meet for their work so that they can’t be bothered with thinking about it. The feeling is that they are powerless to do anything about the machinations going on in Washington, that they’re like sheep to the slaughter.

USDA/NRCS employee

What is the action plan? Do I still get paid; if not do we still report to work? Do we have any funds to continue operations and for how long?

Energy Department employee

— Compiled by Ryan Kellett

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