January 15, 2019: Uncertainty

Now that the DC judge has ruled against the federal employees’ unions lawsuits (see my previous post), hope of having this shutdown end anytime soon has faded for me. I really am concerned that this shutdown will last for a number of weeks. While I have the resources to ride out an extended furlough, I know many people don’t. But its not just about me. What does it say about the country that huge slices of work that the government does is being left undone. What does it say that over 400,000 people are working, often at hard, taxing jobs, with an unknown pay date?

I know that I’ve felt very discombobulated, without my normal routine and my normal tasks. I know that when I am able to return to work, there will be tons of emails and a lot of catch up to do. I know that I’m just a pawn in a larger political game and I feel powerless. Even calling my Representative and Senators is not really something that I feel gives me agency; for me, contacting them is like preaching to the choir. My Congressman and two Senators want the shutdown to end as much as anyone.

There was a period in the 1990s when I felt in limbo; when I was trying to get pregnant. It took nearly two years. In hindsight, that doesn’t seem that long, but at the time, it was v e r y d r a w n o u t. The big part was the uncertainty. Would I conceive this month? Next month? Next year? End up adopting? Resign myself to a childless life?

I had a lot of panic about that situation; I was in my late 30s and having a child was something I felt very passionate about. Towards the end of that period, though, I had an epiphany — this period was simply one act in my life; it would come to a close, something new would happen, and it was going to be all right. Shortly after that, I did end up conceiving and becoming a mother to a beautiful healthy child.

There are some lessons here, but I also recognize that the situation is very different. The commonality — feeling in limbo and having uncertainty. The differences — this isn’t about me, it’s about millions of people (if you add those living in households with the 800,000 affected Federal employees), plus all of the contractors and small businesses that are losing income, yes, it is millions). And its about the future of our national government, and thus, about our country. I don’t have the confidence this time that everything will be all right.

Comments welcome.

January 15, 2019: A way out?

Two Federal employee unions, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) filed suits on behalf of Federal employees who have had to work during the shutdown but have not been paid (“essential” or “excepted” employees). The grounds for the suits are that these government workers are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that workers get paid timely. However, under the Antideficiency Act, excepted employees cannot be paid until there is an appropriation.

I don’t know when these suits will be heard. However, if the judge rules in favor of the unions, there will be only two choices. Either no Federal employee who is in an Agency that isn’t funded works (including the TSA agents and Air Traffic Controllers) or an appropriation passes. If the airports have to shut down, the pressure to end the shutdown will be immense.

The only question that I have is this: does anyone know when these suits will be heard?

Follow up — According to the Washington Post, the judge could rule today.

From the Washington Post article:

Leon (the judge) said he planned to rule immediately from the bench — meaning he could issue a temporary restraining order compelling the government to pay its employees — a move that could affect the partial government shutdown and force movement in the White House or on Capitol Hill. In the event the government is forced to pay workers or allow them to go home, it could break the shutdown impasse or lead to critical jobs going vacant indefinitely.

“If he rules in our favor and determines it was unconstitutional for the government to require workers to come to work and not pay them, it should put pressure on political branches to come to some resolution and end the shutdown,” said Greg O’Duden, the general counsel for the National Treasury Employees Union, which has filed two lawsuits against the government.

Update. According to the Washington Post, the judge ruled against the unions. The shutdown continues…. 😦

A federal judge in Washington on Tuesday refused to force the government to pay federal employees who have been working without compensation during the partial government shutdown, rejecting arguments from labor unions that unpaid work violates labor laws and the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said it would be “profoundly irresponsible” to issue an order that would result in thousands of employees staying home from work.

“At best it would create chaos and confusion,” Leon said. “At worst it could be catastrophic . . . I’m not going to put people’s lives at risk.”

Leon ruled against a consolidated claim that the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association filed against the government, alleging that employees should not be forced to work without pay. The list of unionized employees who have had to work with pay during the shutdown include the Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Agriculture Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission.

January 13, 2019: Weather Closures During a Government Shutdown

On a lighter note, the Capitol Weather Gang of the Washington Post has been providing updates for the winter storm we’ve been been experiencing in the DC area. I am going to quote this section from the comments on the article.

msfenriss: Any idea when the OPM will make their decision about tomorrow?

Svalsbard: I’ve been wondering…what happens if the government is closed…when the government is closed?  Like…if you are excepted I thought you couldn’t go in a leave status without being on furlough.

Rex Block: It’s double closed.

ArlTeacherSnowman: Rex:  Is that like super secret double probation?

Sneakyfeets: I think it’s more along the line of “double-dog dare ya.”

Bob S.52 minutes ago (Edited)From the OPM director’s blog on Dec. 16th, 2015: “We work from information we know could change, but we are committed to making a call no later than 4 a.m., in time for commuters to plan their day. If we are confident in a forecast, we will make the decision sooner – if possible, the night before.”

So, probably something like that! 🙂

Behind the Scenes: Changing the Operating Status

Bob S: Actually, at the moment OPM has kinda thrown in the towel, and decided it’s every agency for itself! 🙂

“Washington, DC Area
Applies to: All Federal Government, until further notice 
Employees should refer to their home agency for guidance on reporting for duty.”


I understand that OPM is affected by the lapse in appropriations. It will be interesting to see whether certain OPM staff are considered “excepted” (i.e. essential) and told to report to work today to provide guidance.

Addendum. I received the following communication from the Office of Personnel Management:

FEDERAL OFFICES in the Washington, DC area are CLOSED. Emergency employees and telework employees continue to work.

This announcement does not apply to furloughed employees impacted by the lapse in appropriations, as they are already in a non-work status.

Excepted employees (e.g., those excepted from the furlough to protect life or property or those who must support them or other non-furloughed employees “by necessary implication”) will follow the operating status announcement, except any time in a non-work status will be considered to be furlough time.

Employees who are Funded or Exempt from Furlough

Non-emergency employees generally will be granted weather and safety leave for the number of hours they were scheduled to work. However, weather and safety leave will not be granted to employees who are:

  • emergency employees who are required to report for duty;
  • telework program participants (with certain narrow exceptions);
  • on official travel outside of the duty station;
  • on preapproved leave (paid or unpaid) or other paid time off (applicable to Funded or Exempt employees only); or
  • on an Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) day off or other non-workday.

Except as noted in the discussion above:
Emergency Employees are expected to report to their worksite unless otherwise directed by their agencies.

Telework Employees (i.e., employees who are participating in a telework program, including those who perform telework regularly and those who telework on an ad hoc basis) generally may not receive weather and safety leave. They must account for the entire workday by teleworking, taking unscheduled leave (paid or unpaid) or other paid time off, or a combination, in accordance with law, regulations, agency policies and procedures, and any applicable collective bargaining requirements (as consistent with law).

Leave. In general, an employee on preapproved leave (paid or unpaid) or other paid time off should continue to be charged leave or other paid time off and should not receive weather and safety leave.

(Posted on January 13, 2019 at 8:45 PM)

January 12, 2019: In the News

Early in the week, I traveled out of town to help my elderly mother, who was having cataract surgery. She likes to listen to the 7:00 am and 11:00 pm network news, and she has it loud, because she lives by herself and is hard of hearing. So at 7:00 am, I wake up to the newscaster talking about “no end to sight to the the partial Government shutdown”. It is very weird to be living the top news story. It isn’t happening to some people over there — it’s about you and your livelihood that’s on the news.

January 12, 2019: Why would young college graduates want to work for the Government now?

People are attracted to Federal Government jobs now because they want to serve the country but also because they perceive the benefits and stability of Government service. However, with the partial Government shutdown now entering into its fourth week (the longest shutdown ever!), where is the sense of stability. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m near the end of my Federal career, have funds stashed away, my child is grown and independent, and my only debt is my mortgage. However, for young people just getting started, with student debt and for slightly older workers with children to raise, daycare costs, and the like — what is the attraction to taking a job that might mean having your paycheck held hostage to political maneuvers?

I work in an office with a lot of Millennials in their early 30s. They are settling down, marrying, having babies. I’m wondering how many of them are looking for jobs in the private or nonprofit sector at this moment, brushing up their resumes and sending them out? How many will be leaving Federal service in the next few months? And who will replace them?

January 11: Free Food for Furloughed Feds

A number of restaurants are providing free food for furloughed Federal workers with ID. One of them is the restaurant empire owned by Jose Andres, which includes these restaurants. Any of the restaurants listed at the link will provide a free sandwich between 2:00 and 5:00 pm. The sandwich is a gourmet ham, but if you don’t eat pork, the restaurant will substitute cheese. Mine was delicious. The weird thing though was that you would look around and see other people eating the same sandwich and you knew they were in the same boat.

ham sandwich, courtesy of Jose Andres

January 11, 2019 — Some Background on US Government Shutdowns

Many people, particularly those reading from abroad, may be wondering why the United States Government has these “shutdowns”. This post will provide some background. A good description can also be found on Wikipedia.

The United States Congress appropriates funds for operating the United States Government. Like any other legislation, these appropriations must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed by the United States President. If the President vetoes them, both houses muster a two-thirds majority vote to override the veto.

The Antideficiency Act prevents the Government from entering into a contract that is not “fully funded”. If there is a lapse of appropriations, a Government Agency must suspend all operations that are not required to protect the safety of human life or the protection of property. Those employees performing such duties (such as TSA agents) are considered essential and must continue to work. Other employees, such as myself, are furloughed, which means that we are essentially locked out from our work. Once funds are restored, everyone goes back to work and essential employees receive back pay. For furloughed employees, Congress must vote (and the President sign) legislation to provide pay for the days that employees were furloughed.

There are 12 appropriations bills that must be passed every year. Since the Federal Fiscal Year begins on October 1, these bills must be passed and signed by September 30. Sometimes, all or many of these bills are combined into an “omnibus” appropriations bill. If bills are not enacted, Congress may enact a temporary “continuing resolution” which funds the Government for a set period of time, allowing Congress to pass a full-year appropriation.

For 2019, Congress passed some appropriations, such as the Department of Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. However, many other parts of Government were not covered under an appropriations bill and were funded under a Continuing Resolution that expired at midnight, Saturday, December 22. The President refuses to sign any appropriations bill (even a Continuing Resolution) that does not contain $5.7 billion for a border wall separating the United States and Mexico. The House of Representatives will not pass an appropriation that funds the border wall. The Senate will not vote on any appropriation that will not be signed by the President. All three parties are at an impasse, waiting to see who will blink first. And so here we are, on day 20 of this shutdown.

January 10, 2019: Two Stories

As I’ve mentioned before, I am extremely fortunate in that I have sufficient savings to ride out the shutdown should it continue for a while. I also have no debts other than my mortgage and no dependent children or pets. However, two colleagues of mine have problematical situations. They are not dire, life-and-death crises, but I’m concerned about them and hope that this shutdown ends so that these two individuals can move on.

The first colleague has three young children and a six-figure student debt. This colleague is married and the spouse is also employed, in the nonprofit sector, so there is at least one income still coming in. However, having one’s family income cut in half is no picnic. I suspect that a student loan payment can be delayed, but interest on the debt may accumulate. A second problem facing my colleague is what to do about daycare. Paying expensive day care costs seems foolish if one parent is out of work. However, countervailing that is the risk that one might lose the child’s slot in the day care. Also, my colleague does not know when we’ll all be called to report back to work. So the day care costs need to be paid.

The second colleague, at full retirement age, put in paperwork to retire on January 2 under the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). This link explains how the shutdown is affecting those who planned to retire but were in furlough status. It appears people in that situation will receive all benefits retroactively. The question is how long it will take for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to process everything and does this employee have enough in savings to ride it out until payments start to come in?

These two examples are real people. Highly educated people whose worlds are completely turned upside down by this very long and unnecessary shutdown.