This week marks the beginning of furloughs for more Defense Department employees than the District has residents.
More than 650,000 Defense staffers will be forced to take 11 unpaid leave days between now and the end of the fiscal year in September. That represents a 20 percent reduction in pay during that period.
We’ve heard politicians argue about the budget-cutting sequester that led to this ridiculous situation. Now let’s hear the voices of the workers. We asked several Defense Department employees how the furlough affects them and their work. Here’s some of what they told us.
Joanna Baker, 72, has been a DOD employee for 45 years. She, her husband and her son work at Moncrief Army Community Hospital in Fort Jackson, S.C.:
“This [has] a profound effect . . . With both my husband and myself furloughed this affects how we will spend . . . certainly no high ticket items such as a new car, or fun vacations . . . No movies, or ‘eat out’ nights. . . .
“I believe morale for civilian employees is at the lowest level possible. . . . Civilian morale will NEVER be the same as it has in the past, and it will get worse and worse as the furloughs progress. . . . We have lost many outstanding civilians . . . because of the furloughs and we will be losing more. In the future if they try to recruit professionals, what professional in the right mind would come to work for an organization who will do this to their most valuable assets?”
Jamie Pettis, 38, is a disabled Army veteran, who now is a civilian employee at the Corpus Christi Army Depot. He is a single parent with a 15-year-old daughter:
“The furlough will affect my family and me greatly. . . . I currently cannot keep up with the car payments . . . I have cut off my cable and Internet services . . . so I can start saving now before furlough hits my paycheck. I am re-evaluating my grocery bill to buy just enough to eat week by week. My daughter and I both have health conditions. Now we will not be able to just make an appointment when we feel like it. Now we will have to make the appointment when we can afford it. My daughter has alopecia areata so we buy hair pieces every 4-6 weeks at a cost of $210 each time. Now I will have to make her go longer with a hair piece that is unmanageable.
“Due to furloughs, the depot has lost several great journeyman mechanics to the oil fields. The experience loss will slow down production and increase quality defects due to a less experienced workforce. . . . Currently, morale is tremendously low.”
Dora Quinlan, 53, has been a Navy Department employee for 36 years and is a regional director of the Federal Managers Association. She and her husband work at the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast in Jacksonville, Fla. Their first furlough day will be Friday:
“Our mission is to provide aviation maintenance, repair, overhaul and modifications that satisfy the Navy warfighters’ demands. . . . Our leadership has implemented an operational plan which will ensure high priority mission critical work, i.e. direct fleet operations, are accomplished. However, there will be adverse readiness and cost impacts due to backlogged maintenance for aircraft, engine, and components. . . .
“Since the furlough will impact a significant reduction in my salary as well as my husband’s salary, we have definitely made plans to ‘tighten our belts.’ We recently refinanced our home and will benefit from lower monthly mortgage payments. . . .
“While this negatively impacts employee morale, most employees like me are dedicated patriots willing to do whatever it takes to ensure service members get the mission critical support that federal workers provide. Like many federal employees, I am finding it difficult to complete my work in a 40-hour workweek; therefore, it will be very challenging for me along with my co-workers to stop work because we ran out of time. Even though I would be willing to volunteer my services to get the job done, by law I am prohibited from doing so.”
David Garrison, 59, has been a federal employee for 42 years, all at Travis Air Force Base in California, where he is manager of C-5 maintenance operations.
“I am divorced and I pay spousal support, in addition to a mortgage for a house that I can’t sell or refi due to being underwater, plus a vehicle payment and the normal bills everyone has. I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck as it is. I’ve had to cancel my cable TV . . . I’ve had to cancel plans for a vacation to visit my aging parents in Texas. They’re in their mid-eighties and not doing well . . . but I now can’t afford the trip. I’ve also stocked up on canned and frozen foods to try and limit my trips to the store. Beyond that, what I need and can’t afford will be put on my credit cards. I typically pay off all of my credit cards each month. I will now go to minimum payments. . . .
“Regarding morale, it is dismal. The civilians that work for me are tired of being perceived as the GSA (General Services Administration) guy in the hot tub, or the IRS employees lavishly spending money. That is the public perception of the federal worker. Now, they’re feeling even more unappreciated by everyone and abandoned by the government. The public at large seems to think that we deserve this . . . nothing could be farther from the truth. These are some of the most dedicated and hardest working people there are anywhere. They (we) have not had a pay raise in . . . 3 years and now they’re cutting our pay by 20 percent. . . . Everything is going up but our wages.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.