Working Through a Furlough

A shot I took of a tree, with a government building in the background, last December

So far, three working days and seven days total into it, this government shutdown hasn’t been anything like I’d expected it to be. For one thing, after expecting to be furloughed, I’ve been working everyday.

I work for an agency where, most of the field force, which comprises about 8,000 of the 9,500 employees, are continuing to work (without immediate pay), while the majority of the headquarters workforce is not excepted, meaning as of Wednesday morning, they had to shut down their computers, turn off their cell phones, and not do any work until there was a budget.

This shot is dated, as the Washington Monument has scaffolding around it — probably from 3 years ago, or so.

I was supposed to be one of those who shut everything down. I help lead the program that provides all of the training to the agency employees, among other things. There’s only about 50 employees in our program, and all of us were to be furloughed, not excepted. We knew that, if the shutdown lasted into January, a number of our field trainers would be called back to work, to deliver trainings scheduled, beginning the week of January 7th.

What I wasn’t aware of was, most of the pre-class prep work required for each of these trainings had not been completed — these things usually happen beginning two — three weeks before each training class. Class notebooks get printed and sent out, travel arrangements are made for all attending the classes, including the trainers, guest presenters are brought in to teach different segments of the class. I had no idea when all this stuff routinely happened, and assumed it had all been done already for the January classes.

The Capital from a rooftop in a nearby neighborhood

While performing our orderly shutdown on Wednesday, one of my training branch chiefs mentioned that she guessed we’ll be cancelling the January classes, since no one will be around to perform all of the aforementioned pre-class activities. That started the chain of events that led me to working all week, along with a few others I had to call back in to work.

My charge was to do whatever needed to happen to ensure these trainings took place. They were considered to be mission critical for our food and consumer safety inspectors and public health veterinarians. So, I excepted myself to stay and coordinate what needed to get done, and brought in a couple of workers who knew how to do the work. Sort of. The guy who has been doing all of the class registration work just retired last week. We were transitioning the work over to new people. It made for a few challenges, but we tackled each one, and got past it.

Print jobs had been sent down to the printers in the basement, but they were all furloughed. I discovered that, while there was gate that appeared to be locked, I could get in there, which I did, and discovered one of our jobs, ready to go (sort of — at least, it had all been printed. There was some assembly required).

We discovered that it was impossible to get a Fedex delivery or pick-up made in our building. The place where they normally enter the building to make their deliveries and pickups was closed, with a sign that the government is closed. We had a package coming from Baltimore that went back and forth to Baltimore three times before we finally got them to hold it at a Fedex facility, where I went to pick it up. I spent two hours there, between waiting in line, then waiting for them to find the packages I was picking up. The system said it was there — it just took a long time for them to find it.

Next week will apparently be more of the same. We have a lot of work to do to get ready for January’s classes.

In a way, it’s made my week so much better than it would have been, had I been stuck sitting around, mad about the government closing, with too much time on my hands and unable to find a comfortable groove. That’s what happened last furlough, in 2013.

Instead, I’m doing things I wouldn’t normally be doing, I’m much more engaged in actually doing things, there’s no meetings to sit through, no crazy schedule to keep up with. It’s much more spontaneous. While, I wouldn’t like a job that’s like this all the time — right now, it’s a nice break from the usual routine.

I expected to be working through the holidays, anyway. Then I thought I would be furloughed. Now, I’m just working without pay — but, I’m in a position where that’s not going to be a problem, at least for several weeks, maybe even a month. I know a lot of people, who live paycheck to paycheck, that will have a tough time of it, if this lasts a few weeks.

My prediction, from day one, has been that it will go through January 10th. As each day goes by, that’s looking more and more like a real possibility.

I’m ready for that eventuality. I’ll just take it a day at a time, and do the best I can each day, in my little corner of the government.

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