Thanks to my essential and nonessential government employee friends, I got the skinny on the effects of Congress’ catfight. Here are five interesting facts you may not have been aware of regarding the government shutdown… or slimdown… or slowdown… or whatever you want to call it.
Non-essential Sounds Insulting
People complained about being called a non-essential employee. It makes sense. Who would want to be referred to as not needed? So the government officially doesn’t use the words “essential” or “nonessential” (just everyone else does). The term they use is “excepted.” No, not “accepted,” as “the church cannot accept your casino chips as tithes.” “Excepted” as in “everyone is furloughed, except these individuals.” It gives a whole new meaning to being called exceptional, especially since most of the government’s employees are excepted.
No Talking… or Checking Your Email
Essential… sorry… excepted employees are barred from communicating with non-excepted employees during the shutdown. They can’t call them, email them, or engage in romantic rendezvous where official business is part of pillow talk. I suppose they can go out for a beer or hang out on the golf course, but they better not discuss work. Believe me, big brother will find out. Much of the NSA may be furloughed, but I’m sure the ones we’re not supposed to know about (you know, the ones that spy on U.S. citizens) are on the excepted list. Government employees have even received official reprimands for checking their email during a furlough. It’s the one time when being the overachiever or a workaholic can actually get you in trouble.
Good Luck Getting Another Job
Many government employees afraid of not getting paid for an indefinite period of time have asked whether they can get another job (seems reasonable). However, there are certain rules about what second jobs they may or may not get. In order to ensure that there’s no conflict of interest in these circumstances, the government has an ethics office where you can get approval for the second job. So, just hop on over to the ethics office and file the necessary paperwork… oh wait. That would work if the ethics office weren’t also on furlough. Talk about the most frustrating catch-22 ever. The people you really feel bad for are the ones who planned to retire. If there’s no one to process your retirement, I guess you’re stuck working… sort of. It’s kind of like that riddle about a tree falling in the forest with nobody around.
Show Me the Money
The big concern with the furlough is who gets paid. I’m sure you’re most concerned about Congress receiving their paychecks, so the answer to that question is, “Yes, Congress gets paid no matter whose life they ruin.” Those in the military also receive paychecks (after all- it’s not a good idea to piss off people with weapons). Excepted employees may or may not receive pay or at least may be delayed in getting paid, even though they have to report to work. Those on furlough may actually get paid for their mandatory time off. As Congress did the last time they pulled a stunt like this, they could choose to make a provision in the spending bill to retroactively pay furloughed employees. Think of it like a tax return. Government gets to spend all your money for a year without interest before returning what’s legally and rightfully yours. “Yay, look how much money the government gave me this time!” Most clever trick the government ever invented.
Furlough: the Ultimate Vacation Scheme
There’s good news for those who are furloughed. Let’s say you scheduled vacation to start on Tuesday, October 1st. Well, congratulations, as long as the government is shut down, you’re technically not on vacation. You’re on furlough, meaning you’re not being charged vacation time while you’re sipping margaritas on the shores of Key West. You’re also technically not being paid, and Tropical Storm Karen is threatening your beach getaway (but that’s beside the point).
Of course, taxpayers may not like this news because that means that they’re not only paying for people’s vacation time, but they’re also paying for the furlough time (assuming nonexcepted employees actually receive back pay). However, for those of you ready to beat down the door of your furloughed neighbor for costing you extra money, relax. When they get back to work, they’re going to be confronted with deadlines and a lot of overtime without getting paid for those extra hours. So, instead of yelling at your neighbor for looking like a teacher in the middle of summer, cut them some slack for working for the world’s worst employer – Congress. Just be thankful you don’t have to subject yourself to the type of office morale they live in every day.
Some Furlough Advice
First, Congress is quite possibly the most inept employers. I’m not a gambling man, but I’d bet my screaming kids on a Saturday night that this won’t be the last time our government gets shut down. If you’re a government employee, look ahead and see when spending deadlines have to be met in order to avoid a shutdown. Then make sure to schedule your vacation time well in advance for the first day of a potential shutdown. When someone questions your ethics, just remind them that you’re following procedures just like Congress.
Secondly, for the love, if your boss tells you that you’re not allowed to come to work, stop trying to be a hero. Turn off your Crackberry and pretend you’re Peter from Office Space. “Good enough for government work” is a mantra you must uphold.
And lastly, never, ever take a position where you’re considered exceptional. Everyone should have the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a snow day.