Federal employees angry at shutdown turmoil

Joe Davidson
Columnist September 30, 2013

In the shutdown shootout between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, it is federal employees who get shot.

Even the threat of a partial government shutdown, with the unending back-and-forth on Capitol Hill, left them battered and bruised.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. View Archive

And they are plenty mad about it.

Sharyn Phillips, an Internal Revenue Service lawyer in Manhattan, said all of the turmoil has left her “very angry.”

“I am saddened to know that I have not gotten a raise for the last three years, had my award canceled, been furloughed for three days during fiscal year 2013, have endured continued threats on my benefits, all the while watching the Congress cause unbearable gridlock for no legitimate legislative purpose,” she said.

“Its inaction is not serving me, my colleagues or our country well, and I am ashamed that the greatest country in the world has devolved to this.”

In Chicago, workers took to the streets for a lunchtime demonstration against a shutdown. They gathered at Federal Plaza with signs that read “Jobs Not Furloughs.”

“Federal employees are hopping mad and sick and tired of this going on,” said John J. O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees local at Chicago’s Environmental Protection Agency offices. “The morale is just so low, it’s just unbelievable. I don’t know why any young people would want to work for the federal government now.”

Morale wasn’t helped by a statement from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), reported in the Huffington Post. “It’s a temporary inconvenience for a lot of people,” he said. “But if Obamacare is ever implemented, we will never recover from that as a nation. We can never be a free people again.”

A bit of hyperbole, maybe?

Katy Scheflen, a Justice Department employee in the District, took strong exception to King’s comment.

“ A ‘temporary inconvenience’ is when there is a delay on the Metro, or when an elevator is out of service,” she said. “Many of the federal workers, such as myself, who will be furloughed live paycheck to paycheck. . . . Not having that paycheck is not a temporary inconvenience.” She said she found the characterization “disgusting and insulting.”

“Federal workers are not just some abstract concept, but they are actual, real, flesh-and-blood people — who are currently wondering how we are going to pay the mortgage, pay utilities, pay for gas, and put food on the table,” her e-mail continued. “It’s not a game to us. GET IT? We are PEOPLE, not bargaining chips.”

Directing her comments to King, who did not reply to a request for comment, Scheflen added: “Shame on you for not even having the decency to acknowledge that taking away our ability to do our jobs and support ourselves is devastating. Or is that just an inconvenient truth?”

President Obama gets it. Speaking on Monday afternoon, he pointed to the injury federal workers faced.

“In the event of a government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of these dedicated public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay,” he said. “And several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay. What, of course, will not be furloughed are the bills that they have to pay: their mortgages, their tuition payments, their car notes. These Americans are our neighbors. Their kids go to our schools. They worship where we do. They serve their country with pride. They are the customers of every business in this country. And they would be hurt greatly, and as a consequence all of us will be hurt greatly, should Congress choose to shut the people’s government down.”

Mark Horowitz, a music specialist at the Library of Congress, is angry and worried. He’s worried about his colleagues who can’t afford to miss a payday “and all the non-federal employees whose businesses depend on their patronage. I worry for the present and the future.”

That worry speaks to something more fundamental than a missed paycheck, as important as that is. It gets to a deep concern about a government that cannot govern, at least not well. It speaks to a lack of confidence in the institutions of government, Congress in particular, where routine budget processes can repeatedly be held hostage by lawmakers seeking to demolish the health-care law of the land.

No one looks good to the public in this dispute. But even as many Americans find fault with the Affordable Care Act, 63 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Republicans are handling negotiations over the budget, according to a Washington Post-ABC news poll. Democrats and Obama fare better, although not good, at 56 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Given the past few days, it’s a wonder more don’t disapprove.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

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