For the government workforce there’s increasing frustration over the labels — officially known as “excepted,” as in allowed to work, as opposed to those sent home or “non-excepted,” long-standing vocabulary that’s part of an effort to destigmatize what are considered offensive labels.
Whatever the terminology, the labels are raising anxiety levels inside government offices with supervisors starting to inform employees Thursday about which category they are in, said federal workers who were eating together in L’Enfant Plaza.
In Washington, where jobs often define a person’s sense of self-worth, people eating lunch talked about their prospects and eyed one another, laughing nervously about which group they would find themselves in.
“It’s like a stab in the back. Like being told in high school that you’re average and not in the honors classes,” said Steve Ressler, 32, who worked in Homeland Security for six years and now runs GovLoop, informally known as Facebook for Feds. “But it matters, because we need the most talented people to work for government on issues as important as food stamps or Syria. We don’t want the best being driven away by all this beating up on federal workers.”
Being nonessential is not only insulting, it means a worker may not be paid, at least not right away, those eating lunch said. After previous shutdowns, lawmakers voted to compensate employees who were ordered off the job. But this time, many members of a deeply divided Congress could prove unsympathetic and may not vote to help employees recoup lost income.
In preparation for a pay cut, a 30-year-old Treasury employee on Wednesday skipped the $10 Bahn Mi sandwiches outside Metro Center to unwrap a grim serving of “several weeks old chicken,” brought from the back of his fridge. He said he was waiting to hear whether he was excepted or non-excepted, but feared the latter.
“This has gotten personal because it’s my paycheck,” he said, asking not to be named because he didn’t have permission from his agency to speak to the media. “I’m stressed out. I need to pay my rent. The main problem is that a lot of politicians are so removed from reality that they think these parlor games don’t have real consequences.”
What makes it all the more infuriating to employees is that the threat of a shutdown feels too familiar, like a scene from the movie “Groundhog Day,” where the same events play out, again and again.
“I was hurt, offended by this two years ago, so I’m over it,” said Frank Matranga, 28, a program analyst with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who said he was already told he was nonessential. “Here’s to hoping the bars in D.C. do the nonessential drink specials again.”