Federal workers picked up signs and protested the ongoing budget battle in Congress that threatens to shut thousands of federal workers out of their offices, keeping them from working under threat of prosecution. In the video above, government workers share their thoughts.
With a light drizzle and chill in the air, hundreds of angry State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development employees spent their lunch hour griping about the prospects of a shutdown. Just hours before the deadline, veteran diplomats and analysts– many of whom remembered working through previous shutdowns while stationed abroad– poured out of Foggy Bottom buildings and gathered in a nearby park, vowing to work next week, if legally permitted, without a paycheck.
“Why must we, who work around the Hill, suffer the adverse consequences of those who work on top of the Hill?” asked Tim Bishop, a representative with the American Federation of Government Employees. Congress he said, “needs to get together, get the budget passed and move on with the business of America.”
Dozens of reporters – many from overseas – gathered for the rally, organized by the American Foreign Service Association. The group’s president, Susan C. Johnson, said the prospect of a shutdown is embarrassing enough for Americans, “but what does it do for our image and our leadership overseas if the United States can’t find a compromise and adopt a budget and keep our federal government going?”
Americans traveling or doing business abroad next week could be at risk if a shutdown persists, said David Hirsch, a State Department employee. “If next week American citizens overseas are unprotected by their government, don’t blame us, we want to serve,” he said. “If next week, American businesses can’t deal with suppliers or customers from other countries, don’t blame us. We want to serve.”
Francisco J. Zamora, a veteran USAID employee, said “practically everything” was pushed aside this week to review plans for an orderly shutdown. “We’re not actually working on our projects,” he said. “Your priority is to go towards an orderly shutdown of the government. You’re not really working on your technical areas anymore.”
Zamora was in Egypt in 1995 and 1996 when the last shutdowns occurred; this time, he fears childhood immunization programs, economic development projects and poor farmers around the globe could suffer.
The State Department’s work on hundreds of unsolved international childhood kidnapping cases would also cease, warned Margaret Pride, a Bureau of Consular Affairs employee. During the last shutdown, she was stationed overseas and ended up escorting a congressional delegation visiting the country (she declined to identify it). She said they should have been back in Washington passing a budget.
“I still have scars from my tongue from where I was biting it,” she said. “We were diplomatic about it.”
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