What Does a Government Shutdown Look Like? Part II

Congress still hasn't reached a deal on a continuing resolution to fund the government through September, so we're less than 48 hours away from a government shutdown. Departments and agencies are exhausting most of their time now in panic and preparation. The administration has put out a figure for total furloughed employees: 800,000. Here are more letters from individual federal employees and contractors about how a shutdown would affect them, and what they're hearing. Do you have something to share? Share your greatest fears with newell@gawker.com.

Some federal employees have been studying Washington's greatest nerd resource for shutdown information: the relevant West Wing episode:

I work for Homeland Security but am not considered "essential" or (I'm in acquisition). I'll be honest - I am not as worried as I probably should be, or as contractors are. If we do have a shutdown I personally don't see it lasting longer than a business week, max, and I'm also fairly confident that we are going to be paid. That's what happened in '95, at least. But with this political climate there's really no way to tell. We find out on Friday who in our office is considered essential, which is already creating a bit of chaos since lots of people are out of the office on Fridays and we aren't sure if these notifications are coming in email form or in a physical packet, but they're going to have to be distributed somehow. We are also going to have to issue stop work orders to our contractors, so that they too go on furlough. In the case of a shutdown, we aren't allowed to check our government email, blackberries, zilch. In fact, if we do, I'm pretty sure it violates the Anti-Deficiency act (this is also why we aren't allowed to work on a 'volunteer' basis).

My roommate is a contractor for the EPA and is in a way worse spot than I am. She bills hourly, so a shutdown = no work to be done = no paycheck. Although we're already planning on going on a food and booze bender for the duration of our hiatus, to drown our sorrows. Last night we watched the "Shutdown" episode of the West Wing, so in my head the negotiations are going a lot like how they went on TV.

What Does a Government Shutdown Look Like? Part IIThis husband and wife look forward to working for free, too:

My wife and I each work for Social Security. A prolonged shutdown would devastate us, financially.

There is a good chance we will be told to come in regardless and work unpaid.

We would then lose money, because we would still have to pay for someone to watch our children, not to mention gas and tolls...

One of us could not just stay home, as anyone not in would be considered AWOL and could face termination.

Our son has a doctor's appointment, and a day we had requested off for would not be honored in a shutdown. Getting our son vaccinated could be grounds for firing...

As much as people are concerned with fingerpointing, there are millions of people will hurt financially. And putting that many people out of work will never help the economy.

I don't see how federally-elected officials can accept their own paychecks when their own grandstanding will leave so many in the lurch.

Thanks for the outlet.

Being legally barred from taking other work doesn't especially help pay the bills, either:

Hello Gawker! Here is how the government shut down will affect me.

I'm an AmeriCorps VISTA member, which is a national service program funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service. I'm technically a volunteer and receive a stipend ($391 every two weeks) for compensation, and am legally barred from holding outside employment. We haven't been given any straight answers, but we can only assume that we will miss a paycheck or two if there is a shut down. Retroactive pay is great except when you're living paycheck to paycheck. No one will be able to pay their rent or bills and we have abolsutely no clue what to do. With Republicans pushing to defund the Corporation completely, this is just another slap in the face for all of us national service members sacrificing because we want to do do good in our communities.

Needless to say, civilians working out of military bases in war zones — who could be considered "non-essential" and therefore unpaid — aren't looking forward to getting shot for free.

Just wanted to contribute a view that I haven't seen put forth very much yet. It's not just the military that has people posted in war zones. My agency and many others have lots of civilians on the ground in conflict zones, working on diplomacy, development, and other civilian functions. It's unlikely that all of them will be considered "excepted" from the furlough, but someone living on a military base in the boonies of Afghanistan doesn't get to take a few days off. Even if they could leave the base and travel somewhere safe for the length of the furlough, all travel in areas like that carries significant risks, and it hardly seems fair to ask people to risk death because Congress can't get its act together. Even if that employee decides to sit around and watch TV on their base while furloughed (which you don't do when your military counterparts are working as hard as ever) the bad guys don't stop shooting at you. So if you get hit by indirect fire while on furlough, are you out of luck, since technically you were on "unpaid vacation"? I know this is a relatively small group of people, and given the level of understanding of how government works displayed by people hoping for a shutdown, I'm sure many Americans don't even know they're out there. Or care.

Separate, but related, there is a lot of work going on in the Foreign Affairs agencies right now, focusing on how to deal with all the growing crises in the Middle East and Africa, and those efforts are hampered by our inability to plan or even to know whether we'll all be in the office next week. It's just not that easy to determine what the minimal levels of staffing needed are to keep these kinds of efforts on track, and the implications of dropping the ball are pretty severe.

And then there are all the people that will take significant financial hits, who I'm sure you're hearing plenty from.

Congress really is terrible, isn't it?

I'm an independent contractor for DHS. I've been there on a week-to-week basis for almost two years. I haven't been able to afford to purchase my own health coverage for over three years. If the government shuts down Friday, my pay for previous, completed projects will be delayed. The review process for my most recent projects will come to a standstill, delaying payment on those, and I'll be sitting home with no work and no income until these clowns in Congress can stop their posturing and this ridiculous political theatre with their eyes only on the upcoming election and achieve what we are paying them to do. (And guess who will continue to get paid and have no gap in their health coverage during a shutdown?)

"No paycheck, no health insurance and cancer":

I'm currently employed by the DoD and was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma. No one in my office has a clue about what to expect, and better yet, we have no idea how this impacts our health plan coverage! No paycheck, no health insurance and cancer...thanks United States Congress!

Thanks for putting a face on this!

Be careful, Congress. You might inadvertently send more good workers to their death, a.k.a. English lit grad school:

I work for a medium sized contractor in TN. Most of the projects we work on are already funded through FY '11 (some even from 'holdover' money from last year). We've been told we will still be authorized to work on/charge to these projects until those funds are severed or run out.

Some groups at our organization will be 'affected' (i.e., furloughed) by the shutdown and they were notified about this when the rumblings started a few weeks back.

Mostly people are worried about the cuts in discretionary funding affecting future contracts with our existing federal clients. This could mean reductions in force starting as early as October. Our overall focus is doing more for less now.

Being a 28 year old, with no wife, no kids, no mortgage, and very little credit card/student loan/car debt, I'll probably start waiting tables to pay the bills if the worst comes to pass. The cost of living down here is cheap (obviously). No more picking up bar tabs for my broke ass buddies though!

The folks that I work with who do have families, mortgages, etc. have been shitting bricks. Being a $50,000 millionaire comes with a lot of risks- you can't afford to miss a paycheck.

In closing, I've been pretty lucky. I was an English Lit major in college with a concentration on Modernism. After graduation I started as a temp, a couple years later I found myself in meetings with people from HHS, DHS, CDC and a host of other agencies. Never really figured out how it came to that, just sort of kept plugging along and there I was. In light of all this, perhaps it's finally time to return to the natural environment of all English majors- grad school!

That's enough for now. Sorry that we couldn't use them all! For now, at least.

The one comment I'd add, as some emailers have alluded to: A lot of employees are hoping that they'll be retroactively reimbursed by Congress after the would-be shutdown, as they were in 1995. And the pressure to do that would be extraordinary. But does anyone see the more strident Tea Party Republican faction in the House ever passing a bill with that much "spending" when they aren't legally required? There's free labor here, after all. Why ever end the shutdown?

Previously:

What Does a Government Shutdown Look Like? (Part I)