The U.S. government may cost more when it is closed than it does when it is open for business.
Thursday's half-day furlough of just a portion of the federal work force will cost the U.S. government -- and that means you -- millions of dollars.
The shutdown also created internal bureaucratic problems that it may take months to solve.
After a similar silly shutdown in November 1981, the House civil service subcommittee estimated the one-day furlough cost the taxpayers somewhere between$80 million and $90 million in makeup salaries and related expenses. Since the government has grown in three years and salaries are up, last week's fiscal-year madness undoubtedly will cost more.
The problem grew out of the fact that Congress, which had hoped to adjourn Friday, failed to approve budgets for a number of federal departments and agencies for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Congress staved off the budget crunch until Thursday when, bogged down in fights over so-called pork-barrel water projects, civil rights and unrelated budget matters, the cash register came up zero.
An estimated 500,000 of the government's 2.8 million civil servants were sent home Thursday. Most of the furloughed employes work in the Washington area.
Some left their offices as early as 10 a.m. Others, at places such as the Department of Energy, say they did not get the word to go home until 3:30 p.m.
The decision to furlough, if only for a few hours, causes almost as much chaos as a two-week shutdown. Employes who were off sick, or on vacation, now must determine their status during the half-day furlough period.
The general answer from the Office of Personnel Management is that if you were on vacation you are all right (and will be paid, even if furloughed workers are not) and that if you were on sick leave you may be able to cancel that portion of your sick leave that took place during the furlough. See why this gets complicated?
Government workers who were traveling for Uncle Sam -- and at any given time about 10,000 feds are in the air, on the road or underground as cave tour guides or mine inspectors -- were supposed to stop what they were doing and call their offices. Some then were told to return home.
Those who had not yet left on nonessential trips were told not to leave home. Those who were on the road when the furlough hit had, in come cases, the option of stopping where they were (but no per diem will be provided) or continuing (in which case they would be entitled to per diem).
Employes who were furloughed, or who may again be furloughed next week, will continue to build credit toward retirement and the government will pick up all employe pension contributions during the furlough period.
They will continue to be covered by health insurance and will earn annual leave while on furlough, unless the furlough lasts for a full two-week pay period, according to OPM special furlough regulations.
Federal officials hope that Congress will get its act together Tuesday so the budget logjam, can be broken.