Reports that Uncle Sam hung his head in shame could not be verified, but there certainly was reason for his elected leadership, particularly the right side of it, to be ashamed of their performance.
Republican insistence on linking basic funding legislation to a hit on the Affordable Care Act prevented agreement on a bill that would allow national parks to remain open, veterans benefits to be processed and about 800,000 federal employees to be paid.
The loss of pay is serious. For some households, a federal job is the single source of income. Some families with two federal workers will now have none.
But more than the money, broken spirits appear to be emerging among some federal employees.
The quiet halls and empty cubicles in the Department of Housing and Urban Development provide stark evidence of the shutdown. Much of the building looked as if it had been hit by a strange force that vaporizes people while leaving their desks and the structure intact.
The generally buzzing Dunkin’ Donuts store on the building’s third floor had customers, but it was unusually quiet. An adjacent snack shop was closed. The credit union down the hall, however, was busy as members got their money before the office closed.
Unless Congress decides otherwise, which can’t be assumed, furloughed employees won’t get paid for the days they are locked out. Those working because they are excepted from the furlough will be paid, but who knows when? They can’t take “eventually” to the bank or to their creditors.
All this leaves federal employees upset and frustrated. But there’s something more. Conversations with workers point to a growing level of alienation among some who were once proud members of the federal service.
But this shutdown, along with three years of a freeze on their basic pay rates and a recent string of unpaid days because of budget cuts, leaves many feeling unappreciated and disrespected.
President Obama recognized this in a letter to employees. He praised them for the “vitally important” work they do “in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag. ”
“None of this is fair to you. And should it continue, it will make it more difficult to keep attracting the kind of driven, patriotic, idealistic Americans to public service that our citizens deserve and that our system of self-government demands.”
He should talk to Sandy Krems to learn what a punching bag feels like.
“I used to be really proud to work for the federal government. I used to feel really proud to work for HUD,” said Krems, who has been with the department since 1988. “But now I feel marginalized, completely. I feel like a pawn in the political process.”