The Washington Post

Shutdown stymies federal employee missions

Federal employees have a strong sense of mission. Now in the second day of furlough because the government is shut down due to a congressional budget impasse, many workers are idle, and the services they provide the nation either won’t get done or will be delayed.

When Stephanie Graf is allowed to work in her Labor Department office, her mission is to help get emergency grants to people in need.

“We provide grants for people like me. I’m dislocated now,” she said before leaving the office Monday.

She’s also concerned about the low-wage housekeeping contractor employees in the Labor Department building who will be affected by the shutdown.

Graf said she supports her mother and assists her son in college her and her daughter who is a single parent.

“I think there is a general concern,” she said, “about what is going to happen next.”

Judith Weinberg works for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on construction safety problems. At 67 years old and after 27 years of federal service, she’s seen a lot, but nothing quite like this shutdown.

Weinberg was around for the last one, the shutdown of 1995-96. “It just feels different this time,” she said. Previously, “there was an effort to work out an agreement.” But today, “there just seems to be a total logjam.”

Her work on a new safety standard for silica dust, that can be found in glass manufacturing, foundries and sand blasting, will be sidetracked because of the shutdown.

“People are dying from silica,” Weinberg said.

Niels Thiess is a furloughed IT specialist for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He’s also a Republican, but “I’m hoping the Democrats hold firm,” he said about the budget dispute. Thiess rejects the Republican attempt to link a budget funding measure to a delay or a defunding of the Affordable Care Act..

Helping people is FEMA’s mission, “so I believe in that personally also,” he said. That means he favors helping those without health insurance get it, as the Affordable Care Act does.

Thiess also is a 27-year employee who was around for the last shutdown. Like Weinberg, he sees less room for compromise now than then.

Now, he said, “the tea party is driving a non-compromising position.”

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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