The partial government shutdown is in its sixth day as I write this. Some 800,000 federal employees, including me and one of our daughters, have been furloughed since noon on Oct. 2. Considered “unessential,” we’ve been on a forced, unpaid vacation. In addition to other duties, I’m a supervisor of six 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing federal employees. All six of them are also furloughed.
If the better part of a million of us is unessential, doesn’t it make you wonder why there are so many of us? It does me.
Oh well. At least we’re saving the tax burden of paying those nearly one million employees for a week or more. Using Jethro Bodine (of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame) math — or ciphering as he called it — we’re saving more than $600 million by not paying us to not work for a week. Doing some quick ciphering you take what I’d guess to be an average salary of $40,000 per year for all 800,000 of us, divide that number by 52 (weeks in a year) to give us the weekly salary and multiply that number by 800,000.
While I don’t have enough fingers to do this level of ciphering, I do have a ciphering machine, which using the above numbers came up with a figure of $615,384,615.38. That’s a lot of money we’re saving. If the government can’t reach an agreement to end the shutdown, at least we have that, right?
Not so fast. The House of Representatives voted last week to provide us back pay for the days we’ve been furloughed. The Senate has yet to take up the bill but is expected to follow the House’s lead.
Now if you think it’s pretty dumb this partial government shutdown happened in the first place, how dumb is it to pay me for NOT working? I’m a taxpayer just like you. A tiny fraction of my taxes is used to pay me just as a tiny fraction of your taxes is used to pay me and my 800,000 fellow civil servants who are furloughed. I, for one, think it’s pretty dumb to pay me for not working.
It isn’t like I’ve been wringing my hands, tears streaming down my cheeks, exclaiming “Woe is me!” this past week. I’ve enjoyed the unexpected time off during a beautiful week in October in Eastern North Carolina, even though it meant I should expect a pay cut.
But I have felt guilty about being furloughed. When the proverbial excrement hit the fan and the government shutdown was announced, I wasn’t available to help steer my unit through the challenges of reduced personnel and other associated issues the budget impasse has caused. I’d prefer to be at work, earning an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work (if that’s even possible as a government employee HAR HAR HAR) and contributing to my unit’s mission.
Then last evening it was reported that some defense employees were being “ordered back to work,” specifically those whose responsibilities according to the law “contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.” More dumbness.
That net is cast so wide that no one should be excluded, even though the law that authorizes employees to be ordered back to work forbids a blanket recall of employees. But if a defense employee doesn’t “contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members” why the heck does he or she have a job?
Unfortunately, the civilian manpower experts needed to determine who does and who does not contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members are all furloughed. Bringing them in on a weekend to figure out which federal employees are REALLY, TRULY, DOUBLE DOG DARE YA unessential and therefore will not be ordered back to work this week would require paying someone overtime, overtime that’s not budgeted or authorized.
If all this leaves you wondering how our elected and appointed officials can appear so … well … Jethro Bodine-ish, then you’re not alone. Nonetheless, you may be at least partially relieved to remember that the Bodine-ishness of this all is part of the great plan of America. It really could be worse.
When our founding fathers designed and codified the three branches of our government into the Constitution, they made sure that the checks of one branch would balance the other two. No one branch of government could have complete power under our Constitution.
In their wisdom, our founding fathers ensured the United States would remain free of the tyrannical power and utter efficiencies of England’s King George III and dictators like him past, present and future.
So all this foolishness is really a good thing. The great plan of America is working.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.