No one can be sure until the last minute, but the odds of a government shutdown in three days have never been higher after a day of collapsed talks. Congressional parties and the White House are hunkering down for cover to ensure they don't get blamed. But it's important to remember, as we watch this parlor game, that a government shutdown affects "real lives" quite directly.
We sent out the call earlier today for federal employees, contractors, beneficiaries, and whomever else would be sharply affected in the event of a government shutdown. Here are a few of the early responses. In the meantime, please keep sending your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there's a government shutdown, you'll be lucky to get paid retroactively:
Both my roommate and boyfriend will be affected by the shutdown. My roommate works for the Department of Defense and will have to go on furlough without pay, and will redeem pay only if Congress approved retroactive pay for government employees. For my boyfriend, it is worse. He is a government contractor for Health and Human Services, and he would also go on furlough, but there is no way he would ever get that money back. So until the government works out some plan, two people close to me will not be getting paid.
Don't think about going on vacation, either:
My spouse is a federal contract employee. His boss has stated that he needs to be available 24/7 in the event of a shut down. He can travel no further than ½ hour away from his job site until the situation goes back to normal. But wait there's more! The entire time of the shut down, while he is placed essentially on house arrest, he gets ZERO dollars and ZERO cents per hour. Yippee! No paycheck, no work, can't leave and pursue other contract work, it is just a dream vacation I do believe.
Some contractors will work out of their own vacation time. When that's depleted, they'll... continue to work:
I am a contractor for the Army and the Army is saying no big deal if a shutdown happens and the company that I contract for will make us take the time out of our vacation paid time and no pay after that if the shutdown occurs. We are hearing , as of today , there probably won't be more than a token shutdown . If it does happen and drags out I personally won't be able to go more than three weeks before I'm in serious irreversible financial trouble .
Agencies could always burn through the money they'd saved for other things in order to keep operating:
I work for an independent federal agency of ~4000 employees. We were told this morning that even if there were a shutdown, we could exhaust previously unspent money (such as carryover from last year) before truly shutting down. Our boss speculated that there was enough for at least a week and that we should plan to come to work on Monday, regardless of any decisions. On the other hand, onsite contractors would be out, and any non-essential travel and training would be canceled.
Shutdown or not, certain employees would be required to work due to having essential safety and emergency related functions. Our agency has a safety mandate, and is now also participating in the emergency response to Japan, so our definition of essential safety and emergency related functions stands to expand.
This likely encapsulates the feelings of many government-employed professionals in the era of Republican budgets:
I'm currently employed at the Environmental Protection Agency in DC through a grant fellowship and to but it bluntly, this budget situation is causing complete chaos. For example, funding for wastewater infrastructure is (according to the House budget) set to be cut by 2/3 from the president's request and the operating budget for the program I work in is set to cut by half. In addition, I have on good information from the administrator's office that several water quality rules are going to be postponed or cancelled due to budget cuts (I'm not 100% sure on this so I probably wouldn't run with it). A lot of this is just trying to make up for the damage done by the previous administration.
As for a shutdown, our program has extensive travel plans (already funded) that will have to be scrapped due to a shutdown which will end up costing the government money. Contractors will have to delay work which will only end up costing the government more money. Nobody at EPA has been able to develop a coherent plan for this fiscal year on what priorities should be and if we can even accomplish our necessary tasks. The inability to plan for no more than 2 weeks at a time is no way to run a government agency. We can't hire anyone even though we are losing staff due to regular personnel turnover, losing funds for contractor support, and are getting an ever increasing workload. A lot of our time has been consumed preparing for a shutdown while we could be doing our jobs.
This is most important part: Contrary to popular opinion, government workers are not lazy freeloaders who do nothing all day and collect huge salaries. Just about everyone I work with busts their ass on a daily basis working weekends, nights, and some are continually on travel spending time away from their families. All of this while here at EPA we are continuously being demonized for putting undue burderns on our corporate overlords. Burdens such as ensuring that we have clean drinking water and air (the two most important substances to human life). As for government workers being overpaid, nobody gets into environmental protection for money because there isn't any to be made unless you sell your soul an energy company. I'm 28 with a Masters degree making $45k per year while friends of mine in corporate law pull in over $150k right out of law school. Instead, government workers who have nothing to do with our deficit are going to be punished just because Congress is having a pissing contest over a few billion dollars that also have nothing to do with our deficit.
All this, and I didn't even mention the attack on climate change science which will go down in history as the biggest affront to science since the Scope's Monkey Trial.
But on the bright side:
At least there will be fewer people on the Metro.