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One View of Government Shutdowns

non-essential personnel

This week the rhetoric about the debt ceiling, sequestration cuts, and basic funding of the government for the next year, the Budget, came to a head with the new threat of “shutting the government down“.

This week:

Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (TN) insisted that shutting down the government should be “on the table” as Congress and the Obama administration deal with passing a continuing resolution, raising the debt ceiling, and addressing the sequestration cuts.

Jansing warned that should the government shutdown, the FBI would stop working, “prisons won’t operate, the court system closes, tax refunds won’t go out, the FAA would go off line.” But Blackburn dismissed these concerns by arguing that Republicans will set priorities for government spending and start eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse.”


Each representative reiterated the dangerous consequences in store, should Congress fail to extend the debt limit, thereby forfeiting the government’s ability to make payments of any kind. One result, which Republican Tom Coburn recently called “a wonderful experiment,” would be a government shutdown.

Those of us who spent their life working for the government and lived through the last Federal Government shutdown in 1995-1996 (twice, Nov 14-19 and Dec 16-Jan 6) know what the emotional and financial toll is on federal workers.

As a government employee, you are singled out by your Supervisor, your Agency, and by Congress and told you are not needed, you are excess, “non-essential”, to the effort of supporting the government. Some of your co-workers will be left in place to continue essential services. In my case, I was one of the people sent home to wait until the crisis passed while my co-workers worked a normal schedule. I had over 23 years service at the time.

Throughout the shutdown the news coverage was intense with interviews of Republican Congressmen saying, look, the government is still working without the furloughed employees, they are “non-essential” to the needs of the government; they are not needed. Hearing that message every day for weeks from elected officials is hard. There was a lot of anger and resentment from the furloughed employees towards the government that allowed this to happen to us.

One of my memories is of a Republican Congressman saying he was not a government employee, the shutdown did not affect him. Actually, he was paid by the Federal Government. (There is a law that allows Congress to be paid even if the government is shutdown.)

After the government shutdown was over, we went back to work as the other, the person who was sent home as “non-essential”.  Every time the shutdown/furlough was mentioned in casual conversations, everyone discussed what they did during it. We remembered being told we were “non-essential” by the government, our employer. We furloughed employees were paid after the fact, our checks came later – after the bills came in and sat on the desk.

The non-government / citizens could not go to the National Parks, Museums, or to government offices to discuss issues – that was the visible manifestation of the shutdown to us. They did receive their Social Security checks on time, the military was on duty, so were “essential government services” (prisons were operated, etc.,). Their lives went on normally.

We  government employees were used as pawns in the “crisis”- we were abused emotionally (told we were “non-essential”) and financially, our bills and mortgages were not paid on time, our credit ratings were affected. There was stress in families, not knowing when the furlough would be over, when would we be able to pay the bills, would we have a job.

Looking forward to this coming financial crisis – will the government services and employees be used again as “pawns” by the politicians to making a powerplay to gain political advantage and harm the U. S. Government’s standing in the world?  Will the Republicans be remembered as the party that shut down the government – again?

Photo by Phil Roeder under Creative Commons license

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