Here I sit on a rainy July morning, with the day off and time to reflect on how I got here. I’m legally prohibited from going to work, and I won’t get paid for 10 more Fridays over the next couple of months.
This is the plight of the federal worker today. From the outside, from the average American’s point of view, it seems as though we’re seen as part of the problem with the government. We’re the people who carry out all that wasteful federal spending, after all. Or we’re the people who collect a nice steady paycheck with good benefits while sitting on our behinds doing nothing all day. Or, worse still, we’re the people who throw lavish conferences on the taxpayers’ dime, solicit prostitutes while on official travel, shill contractors for millions that go in our pockets, or use our federal powers to unfairly target groups whose politics we don’t agree with. And sure, those things have all happened. But the government is an incredibly large employer, and the fact is from my experience most federal workers are like me: we work hard, we play by the rules set out for us, and all we ask for in return is to be fairly compensated for our time and effort. There are always going to be idiots in any organization. Some are employed for life once they get hired. Some are elected every four years, some every two or six. I can’t help that. I didn’t write the rule book or the Constitution. (I guess those are the same thing in this case, but work with me here.)
It’s just a shame that it’s gotten to the point where we’re another set of pawns in a political chess match, and despite our pay being frozen for three years and retirement benefits being cut for new hires, while a person in my equivalent job in the private sector makes more than me, we’re still viewed by many as overpaid and useless. How many potshots can a workforce take before the best people bail out to the private sector and the public opinion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, assuming private industry could even absorb that many people? Or are we all doomed to devolve into Milton from Office Space? To make matters worse, the country won’t even come to a grinding halt thanks to the sequestration and furloughs, so to the average person this probably seems like a good move. The only problem is measures like this barely start to scratch the surface of the national debt, are no way to balance a checkbook, and do little to solve the root causes and Congressional dysfunction.
(Furlough busting product idea: sell little blue sugar tablets to D.C. tourists that promise to treat Congressional dysfunction.)
I don’t want to drag my own personal political beliefs into this, but unfortunately politics are the reason why so many of us are in this situation. Neither side is blameless. Our elected leaders could not agree on a budget. This is despite agreeing in principle that the budget should somehow be lower to reduce spending – although it seems the agreement was conditional to the other party giving up everything they stand for, or being made to look the villain in the public eye. Another great fact is that Congress has to do all the same budget “decision making” next year and every year after this until the end of time, so who knows, the furlough funhouse could pop up again before we know it. There’s no room for compromise or understanding here, people – this is America! Sheesh.
So, here I am, the furloughed federal worker who’s not allowed to work today. Moving forward, all I can do is try to financially manage the pay cut and make the most of my forced time off. I certainly plan on enjoying it!