January 28, 2019: First Day Back

My first day back was … interesting. It took up to an hour for people to log in to their computers. After about 90 minutes of clearing through my backlog of emails and making some replies, I noticed that I had 4 emails in my outbox, meaning that for some reason, the system was unable to send them. After leaving a message with IT services and getting a call an hour later, I spent about 45 minutes with my IT specialist and gave up when I had a meeting. Interestingly enough, when I returned, everything was working again. The IT person had made some tweaks. Apparently, some certificate had expired during my 35-day furlough. Meanwhile, I had some other certifications that had expired and I had to get them restored. Finally, there were notices posted EVERYWHERE telling us NOT to sign into our time and attendance system. Our Agency is doing them centrally so that everyone can get their two missing paychecks on Thursday.

On the other hand, we were treated like returning victorious warriors. We were feted with donuts, home made muffins, coffee… and then pizza for lunch. Our Agency Administrator stood by the elevator banks, greeting everyone personally as we entered. He later walked through the building chatting with all the staff. It was something.

I also actually got some actual work done. It felt good to be back.

January 26, 2019: A Hard Return

Hundreds of thousands of furloughed Federal employees and the contractors who support them are preparing to return to work on Monday. While I personally am glad to be returning to a job that I value and love, I know that the 5-week shutdown is going to make this return much harder than a typical 2-week Christmas break. Below are three of my concerns. All of them affect my work directly.

Retention. I work with a number of Millennials. I wonder how many of them have been posting their resumes and examining other career options. People choose Government jobs for security. However, with this latest shutdown, lasting 5 weeks, causing workers to miss two paychecks, and the possibility of another shutdown in three weeks, people are doubting the security of their Federal Government jobs. I would not be surprised to see a number of young staff departing. Senior staff may also follow suit, and some may choose to retire sooner than otherwise.

Recruitment. I’m inserting a segment from an article from PBS.

As potential employees decide whether to apply for government jobs, Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said the shutdown is sending a clear message.

If the government was a private company, it would be viewed as “an abusive employer, led by a fickle CEO. Its board of directors on Capitol Hill are fragmented and divided,” Light said. “It’s a terrible signal to send to the incoming class of federal employees.”

Light said many young people, including those he teaches, want to make a difference in the world coming out of college, and are ripe for recruitment to public service. But now they could be rethinking their options.

Several science students considering jobs at federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation told The Verge that the shutdown was causing them to rethink their career paths.If the government was a private company, it would be viewed as “an abusive employer, led by a fickle CEO.”

The shutdown’s impact on federal hiring is also being felt at the highest levels of government. Kevin Hassett, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told The New York Times this week that a graduate student told the council he might not take the federal job he was offered because the government could not bring him onto the payroll.

This may make it very hard to fill vacancies, causing those who are currently filling in to burn out and leave. This could cause a vicious circle.

Contractor Support. During the 2013 shutdown, firms that were providing services for my Agency had moved their staff to other organizations. When we returned to work after the 16-day shutdown, contractor staff that I had been working with were no longer there. I am very concerned about a repeat of this. I’m quoting, in entirety, this post on LinkedIn from the point of view of a Government contracting firm.

It seems that leaders may finally be coming around to the realization that the impact of the ongoing partial government shutdown is far less about immigration policy than it is about the millions of people directly affected by it. And the human impact goes well beyond the estimated 800,000 federal workers who are going without paychecks right now. Every one of those stories is different and they are all heartbreaking. That’s where most of the media coverage begins and ends, regretfully. There is a bigger story about a much larger, nation-wide workforce that is dealing with the same issues today – mortgages, groceries, utilities, tuition, etc. There are also longer-term, bigger-picture repercussions, which may be even more severe and impactful to the federal government downstream. 

Professional Services companies, i.e., support contractors, play a massive role in the conduct of our government’s business. I’m not talking about the contractors that build or maintain facilities and infrastructure. This is about the millions of smart, passionate, and experienced private sector employees who work side-by-side with federal counterparts every day to make the government work. Many have spent their entire careers supporting the public sector and consider themselves civil servants, regardless of whether their paycheck comes directly from Treasury. Having spent the first 22 years of my career as a federal employee, I can attest that these people are every bit as important to the government mission as the clients they support. Many of these support contractors are not receiving paychecks right now either. They are incurring the same debts as their public sector counterparts, but they will never see back pay and are not accruing leave. 

Those who are being paid are depleting their own personal time off, or PTO to do so. Many of them are permitted to carry negative PTO balances, which is a different kind of debt and puts additional financial strain on their employers, many of which are small businesses. These small businesses that allow employees to go “in the hole” on PTO can only afford to do so for a short period of time, and will eventually need to furlough. The resulting impact for this group of forgotten patriots is: no check, no back pay, and no time off, not only for this year but perhaps next year as well. They are giving up family vacations. They will miss school plays and sports tournaments. They will come to work when they are ill, to the detriment of themselves and their co-workers. They will have no time to simply get away now and again, as every workforce study conducted in the past 30 years says is important for personal and professional well-being.

Some will leave the business of government service forever, and that will have a massive impact when the government re-opens. This impact is multiplied given that the most mobile of these experts are the best and brightest at what they do. They will have other options. Hence, the returning workforce will be both depleted and diluted. Many of the small businesses which employ these valuable people are not only on stop work orders today but have not even been paid for the services they delivered before the shutdown because the federal employees who approve invoices and make payments are on furlough themselves. This affects every small business differently; I fear many of these important companies will close their doors in one way or another if the shutdown is not resolved soon. At some point for all of us, money that does not come in cannot go out. 

This presents yet another layer to an already massive problem. Turning contracts back on after a stop work order is complex enough; what if the vendor is no longer around to take that call? Without their support teams in place, many federal employees will have trouble accomplishing their missions when they finally do return to work and their paychecks resume. 

The simple and unfortunate reality is that the services provided to the American people by the federal government will continue to be impacted, long after the shutdown is over. Some key support contractor personnel will not return to the public sector and cannot be faulted for their decision. Some will need to find new employers because the one they worked for, perhaps for their entire career, will no longer exist. Those who decide to return will do so feeling less passionate about their mission, to the detriment of their performance. And some of their small business employers will be faced with trying to recover from losing 10-15% of their annual revenue – training, capital investment, company events, etc. are all at risk there. Finally, the most problematic long-term impact could be the reality that it was already difficult recruiting the best and brightest next generation workers into the public sector. Why would any of them sign up for this?

January 24, 2019: Never Again

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has introduced a bill called the Stop the Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The Coming Years (STUPIDITY) Act. I have no idea what the prospects of it for passing, but it is brilliant. In the event that Congress is unable to pass a regular appropriation, a Continuing Resolution that would fund the Government at the previous year’s level would automatically kick in. Below is the text for any legislative nerds. Please contact your Congressional Representative and Senators to pass this act.

 A Bill to provide for continuing appropriations in the event of a lapse in appropriations under the normal appropriations process, other than for the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled.

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Stop the Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage In The coming Years Act’’.

1(a) IN GENERAL.—Chapter 13 of title 31, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following

SECTION 2. AUTOMATIC CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS.

‘‘(a) In this section, the term ‘excluded account means an appropriation account—‘‘(1) for any agency, office, or other entity in or under the legislative branch; or ‘‘(2) for any agency, office, or other entity in or  under the Executive Office of the President.

‘‘(b)(1)(A) If an appropriation Act for a fiscal year with respect to the account for a program, project, or activity has not been enacted and continuing appropriations are not in effect during any period during such fiscal year with respect to the program, project, or activity, there are appropriated such sums as may be necessary to continue, at the rate for operations specified in subparagraph (B),

the program, project, or activity if ‘‘(i) the program, project, or activity is not funded under an excluded account; and ‘‘(ii) funds were provided for the program, project, or activity during the preceding fiscal year.

‘‘(B) The rate for operations specified in this sub-paragraph with respect to a program, project, or activity

‘‘(i) is the rate for operations for the preceding fiscal year for the program, project, or activity— ‘‘(I) provided in the corresponding appropriation Act for such preceding fiscal year; or ‘‘(II) if the corresponding appropriation bill for such preceding fiscal year was not en acted, provided in the law providing continuing appropriations for such preceding fiscal year; or ‘‘(ii) if the corresponding appropriation bill and a law providing continuing appropriations for such preceding fiscal year were not enacted, is the rate for operations for the preceding fiscal year for the program, project, or activity provided under this section for such preceding fiscal year, as increased by the percentage increase, if any, in the gross domestic product for the calendar year ending during such preceding fiscal year as compared to the gross domestic product for the calendar year before such calendar year.

‘‘(2) Appropriations and funds made available, and authority granted, for any fiscal year pursuant to this section for a program, project, or activity shall be available for the period beginning with the first day of any lapse in appropriations during such fiscal year and ending with the date on which the applicable regular appropriation bill

for such fiscal year is enacted (whether or not such law provides appropriations for such program, project, or activity) or a law making continuing appropriations for the program, project, or activity is enacted, as the case may  be.

‘‘(c) An appropriation or funds made available, or authority granted, for a program, project, or activity for any fiscal year pursuant to this section shall be subject to the terms and conditions imposed with respect to the appropriation made or funds made available for the preceding fiscal year, or authority granted for such program, project, or activity under current law.

‘‘(d) Expenditures made for a program, project, or activity for any fiscal year pursuant to this section shall be charged to the applicable appropriation, fund, or authorization whenever a regular appropriation Act, or a law making continuing appropriations until the end of such fiscal year, for such program, project, or activity is enacted.

‘‘(e) This section shall not apply to a program, project, or activity during a fiscal year if any other provision of law (other than an authorization of appropriations)—

‘‘(1) makes an appropriation, makes funds available, or grants authority for such program, project, or activity to continue for such period; or

‘‘(2) specifically provides that no appropriation shall be made, no funds shall be made available, or no authority shall be granted for such program, project, or activity to continue for such period.’’.

(b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT.—The table of sections for chapter 13 of title 31, United States Code, is amended  by adding at the end the following: ‘‘1311. Automatic continuing appropriations.’’

January 24, 2019: When will this nightmare end?

There have been some frightening indications that this partial Government shutdown won’t be ending any time soon. The most recent moves among the White House, Congress, and State and local governments is to find ways to mitigate the impact of the shutdown.

The first indicator, I posted yesterday — Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is asking Agencies to provide him with the list of impacts of another two months more shutdown.

The second indicator is the proposed bill by some Congressmen to push for immediate pay for those Federal workers who are working without pay. Again, a recognition that funding for the Agencies affected by the shutdown won’t be coming soon, so let’s find a way to cope. Just as frightening is the call by Federal employee unions to “pay our workers NOW”; that is, support this bill.

The third indicator of the “normalization” of the shutdown is the move by States, local governments, and nonprofits to provide aid to Federal workers and contractors affected by the shutdown. It started with the pop up food pantries targeted to feds. It’s expanded to banks and credit unions offering 60 day interest-free loans and forbearance on mortgages and other recurring payments. The Washington Post reports that the District of Columbia is offering no interest loans to Federal workers and is acting to prevent landlords from evicting Federal workers.

These moves are noble but they miss the point. Crucial work is not being performed. Federal prosecutors are not able to collect evidence to convict accused criminals. Federal court backlogs are growing. The hurricane model is not being updated. Preparations for the 2020 Census are halted. Taxpayers are unable to get help filing their taxes. Work to prevent forest fires in California is not being done. I could go on and on.

My work is not as urgent as those listed above, but it is valuable. I desperately want to return back to work. This shutdown madness needs to end.

January 23, 2019: Months’ Long Furlough??!

I read in the Washington Post that the White House Acting Chief of Staff (and OMB Director) Mick Mulvaney is asking Agencies to list impacts in their mission that would result from a shutdown that lasts into March and April. Certainly, the news is not encouraging for a speedy resolution. Below is an excerpt.

Mulvaney wants the list no later than Friday, these people said, and it’s the firmest evidence to date that the White House is preparing for a lengthy funding lapse that could have snowballing consequences for the economy and government services.

The request is the first known inquiry from a top White House official seeking information about the spreading impact of the shutdown, which has entered its fifth week and is the longest in U.S. history. So far, top White House officials have been particularly focused on lengthening wait times at airport security, but not the sprawling interruption of programs elsewhere in the government.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose Mulvaney’s demand.

The shutdown has already caused the federal government to stop paying 800,000 employees, but the impact is expected to become exponentially broader in the coming weeks. The federal court system is likely to halt major operations after February 1, and the Department of Agriculture does not have funding to pay food stamp benefits in March to roughly 40 million people.

The White House also faces a backlash from many federal workers, who face missing a second consecutive paycheck in the coming days. Some workers have balked at continuing without being paid, and their unions are filing legal action against the administration.

And there were new signs on Wednesday that federal agencies are still trying to comprehend the scope of their growing problems. The U.S. General Services Administration, an agency that manages many of the government’s leases and contracts, notified a number of departments that it doesn’t have a plan for how it can pay utility and lease payments in February if the shutdown persists.

Can the country sustain a shutdown lasting several months? Frankly, this is terrifying to me. Personally, I could ride out a couple more months’ shutdown, but what would it mean to my community, my country, to have 800,000 people (plus contractors) not getting paid and not providing essential services?

January 23, 2019: Photos

I have been spending a lot of time during this shutdown archiving my photos. I have two pictures that are relevant to this post of my colleagues during two shutdowns. The first one was taken on October 14, 2013, about two weeks into the October 2013 16-day shutdown, at a brew pub. The second was taken January 18, nearly 4 weeks into the current shutdown. In the first picture, everyone is smiling. In the second picture, everyone is looking very grim. Why the difference?

First, there were environmental differences — the 2013 photo was taken in the patio, in one of those classic beautiful sparkling October days — brilliant sun, comfortable temperature. It was at a brew pub, and some people are holding beer mugs or wine glasses. In contrast, the 2019 photo was taken in the middle of January, with everyone cooped up inside. Nobody was drinking.

Second, at that point, the 2019 shutdown was twice as long as the 2013 shutdown. Everyone had missed their first paycheck (maybe why nobody ordered drinks).

Third, and probably most importantly, in 2013, there was an end in the shutdown in sight. Later that week, the debt ceiling would be reached, so Congress needed to vote on raising the debt ceiling; it was expected that the shutdown would also end. Indeed, that is what happened. The shutdown was caused by some hard-line Republicans in the House of Representative insisting on eliminating funding for implementing Obamacare. The Senate, the President, and most Congressional Representatives didn’t want the shutdown. The hard-liners caved, and everyone went back to work.

By contrast, without getting into the politics, there is no end in sight. There are glimmers of hope — tomorrow, the Senate will vote on two bills with the potential for ending the shutdown. However, either bill needs 60 votes to move forward. If both bills fail, we’re back on square one. I think there is a sense of despair — when will this insanity end?!