Fred Rasche, a 49-year-old engineer who has worked for the Federal Aviation Administration for 27 years, is one of 4,000 FAA employees who were furloughed July 23 because of a financing impasse. To his shock, Congress adjourned Tuesday without agreeing to a funding extension that would have returned them to work
“I believe in government that works,” Rasche said Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared to go with other members of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to meet with congressional staff on Capitol Hill. “The people in my office do work, and they work hard. This Congress isn’t able to work. It doesn’t seem like government is working anymore. It’s certainly not working for us.”
Rasche and his colleagues say they have been caught in a pointless political spat that could have far-reaching consequences on their lives. “It’s impacting us today, and it’s impacting our future,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand what it’s over.”
Rasche works as a lead engineer for a Chicago-based team overseeing the replacement of out-of-date computer systems in air traffic control towers at airports across the central United States. “We’re expected to get the job done,” he said. “We commission these towers on schedule and on budget.”
All seven of the electronics engineers on his team have been furloughed, as have many other colleagues. “They’re all scared,” he said. “A lot of us live paycheck to paycheck.”
Rasche has four children, including a 17-year-old due to start college and a 14-year-old starting high school.
After getting a call Saturday informing him that he had been furloughed, Rasche sat down with his wife to review which bills had to be paid and which can wait. They have enough to pay their August mortgage and maybe their September mortgage on their home in Arlington Heights.
They have already cashed in several life insurance policies and are planning to run up their credit card debt. “We’re probably going to have to run through the college savings plan,” he said.
His wife, who works for a medical office, is considering taking a second job. “I’m going to start looking at what’s out there,” Rasche said. “I hate to walk away from 27 years at the FAA.”
“We’re absolutely floored,” said Bob Aitken, a senior construction manager for the New England region for the FAA. “We can’t believe they walked away from this.”
For the first time in his life, Aitken has applied for unemployment benefits. “I never thought I’d have to do that,” he said. “It’s not a good feeling.”