Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pulling back from the brink (for now): Congress Edition

I'm going to apologize for this rant ahead of time, but here we go...

This week has been an extremely stressful, confusing week for federal employees. For those who are not aware, Congress still has not passed a budget for the 2011 fiscal year. This would be embarrassing, but perhaps not overly so, if the fiscal year started on January 1 for the government. Unfortunately this isn't the case. The 2011 fiscal year for the federal government started on October 1. This means that more than six months into the fiscal year, Congress still has not determined how things should be paid for. Add in the fact that the President just presented his 2012 fiscal year budget and workers deep in the catacombs of Executive agencies are already toiling away at the 2013 budget, what we have here is a whole lot of stupid.

In no other respectable organization could what we have seen these last six months happen. Could you imagine being in the finance or budget department of your workplace and the CFO deciding that, "Hell, budgets are overrated. Let's wing it this year." This obviously would be unacceptable. The absolute black hole of leadership from the officials WE elected to represent us in Washington D.C. would make Nero blush. While the Hill was busy bickering about policy riders, Planned Parenthood, and whether $37B or $39B would be cut from the budget, real people were worrying about real things.

The biggest concern on almost 800,000 people's minds is whether they would report to work on Monday morning. This whole week, almost a million federal employees were waiting until the clock struck midnight and Friday turned to Saturday. If there was no deal struck for either a budget for the rest of the fiscal year or a short term extension of the temporary funding, almost all of them would be furloughed come Monday. This list actually includes me. I didn't didn't work for the federal government and don't remember the shutdown in 1995, but I work with many people who do. Then, just as now, there were an alarming lack of grown ups running our government. The government actually shut down twice that year (briefly in November than then for more than two weeks from mid-December to January).

This, of course, means that those employees were not paid during those periods. Luckily, they were paid afterward, but these games that are being played with real people's lives is sickening. I get it: federal employees are not the most sympathy-gathering group of employees in our country. There is a reason that most of the media and politicians focused on the fact that soldiers would not be paid during the shutdown. Without question this is a more compelling story than Ms. Suzie Bureaucrat in the Department of Redundancy and Inefficiency being furloughed. In the end, though, federal employees are real people and deserve to not just be collateral damage in stupid fights over things the fighting parties don't even believe in.

And luckily it never came to that. After arguing over next to nothing for a week, our best and brightest struck a deal at the 11th hour last night in which the Republicans gave up policy riders concerning Planned Parenthood and the EPA and the Democrats gave up more cuts. And I, as a federal employee, should be grateful, right? Are you grateful when you order a cheeseburger at a restaurant and what you ordered actually is brought to your table? Are you grateful the auto mechanic you paid to put a new tire on your car actually did so (and even installed the right size tire, to boot)? Of course not.When you pay someone money, it comes with an expectation that they will do their job. Unlike members of Congress, most restaurant employees and auto mechanics don't make upwards of $200,000 a year. Yet every day these people do their job. Congress: all I, and 800,000 other federal employees, ask is that you DO YOUR JOB. You were elected to do it and you were paid to do it. Get it done.

P.S. Don't look now, but the temporary funding only lasts until this coming up Friday. So, federal employees out there, get ready for a repeat of this week!

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