By Joe Shearer, Reporter
Due to the failure of Republicans and Democrats to agree on a spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year, the United States government was shut down last Tuesday, putting hundreds of thousands federal employees out of work.
During a shutdown period, which hasn’t happened since 1995, any employee who is funded through annual appropriations from the spending bill and is not classified as an “excepted,” “exempt” or “emergency” employee is furloughed, meaning they will not work until a resolution to the budget is passed.
Since the shutdown, there has been a flurry of emotions and opinions buzzing about conversation online and in-person.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, was a topic at the forefront of the Republican and Democrat disagreements. The legislation has been a controversial topic from its inception and continues to be so today, with sides for and against it constantly clashing.
Amidst the barrage of public opinion, several questions have arisen in regard to what is really happening during this government shutdown.
Fortunately, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released a 30-page packet, titled “Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs,” that serves as a comprehensive resource for employees and the public alike to provide answers to all of the questions about policies, exemptions and any other miscellaneous technicalities during the shutdown.
One of the biggest questions obviously concerns the furloughed employees and their pay. Not working usually equates to not earning a paycheck, even during the events of a shutdown that is completely unrelated to them.
Fortunately for the currently furloughed, the House of Representatives passed a bill this weekend that will retroactively pay the federal employees for their lost pay. This isn’t an obligation for Congress, but they have gone to the same measures for all past shutdown furlough periods.
The furloughed employees are just a fraction of the whole number of federal workers. The rest are still working under emergency or ‘excepted’ status. Emergency and excepted employees perform work that, “by law, may continue to be performed during a lapse in appropriations.” This type of work usually involves the “safety of human life or the protection of property.”
Dave Crane is a University of Nebraska at Omaha alumni that graduated in 2008 and has been working for the Omaha District of the United States Army Corps of Engineers as a biologist in their Planning Department. Temporarily in excepted status, Crane and other employees within his office continue their work as they are still operating on remaining non-expiring funds from the prior fiscal year’s budget.
He says that every day he gets to work during the shutdown is a lucky one.
“It’s very fortunate that I get to be in a position that I’m in, where it hasn’t really affected me yet,” Crane said. “But if [the shutdown] continues to go on for more than a couple of weeks, which this one could, not having a paycheck come in regularly will hurt.”
Many others aren’t as fortunate as he is, though; and regardless of the relief of back pay, Crane says that money for immediate costs and emergency funds are not going to be around for a lot of federal workers.
“All that kind of stuff is such a shame,” Crane exclaimed. “There are a lot of people that are totally just down-and-out over not getting paid or not receiving services from the federal government that that were set up for a reason.”
Crane said that although his personal work has yet to be disrupted by the shutdown, he is witness to a ripple effect rolling through the work of others in his agency, other federal agencies and government programs.
“I’ve seen it firsthand,” Crane said. “It affects a lot of people, most of them you don’t see on a regular basis: mothers that are trying to get food for their children, or the Native American tribes that all of their funding has been shut off.”
So for now, all of the federal employees can do is wait it out for the nation’s representatives to pass a spending bill. With no end in immediate site, Crane said it would be hard to do anything more than speculate as to how fast both sides can find some middle ground.
Politics and his environmental regulation passion aside, Crane stresses the point that the shutdown is truly hurting many people’s livelihood as long as it continues to go on.
“It’s about people not being able to live because they can’t receive their paycheck or help that they require.”
All opinions expressed by Dave Crane are personal and are not intended to be the views of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. For a full copy of the “Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs” packet, or for contact information, visit the OPM website at opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/furlough-guidance.