What I Did On My Unpaid Vacation: Week One

As most of you know, I was furloughed from my work as a federal employee, effective this past Tuesday.

I check my office email every day for updates. This morning I responded to an intra-agency chat from a colleague. It seems that an entire section of my agency was deemed "excepted," and has been reporting to work the entire time.

Me: Hey, what are you doing here?

Joe: more importantly ... what are you doing here? you could get in BIG trouble being here

Me: Checking the mail in the morning to see if people are reporting back to work. We're allowed to do that much, remember? What's your excuse?

Joe: I'm NOT furloughed. I'm allowed to be here

Me: Whaddaya mean, you're not furloughed?

Joe: [XYZ] isn't furloughed

Me: Why not?

Joe: we're funded differently

Me: Really? Oooh, funded differently. Well, how do you like that? So, everybody from [XYZ] is in, right?

Joe: pretty much

Me: You're getting paid, right?

Joe: if they process the paychecks

Me: Well, speaking of work, mine is done for now, so I'm outa here. Buh-bye.

Joe: buh bye

A real beehive of insight, isn't it?

That development doesn't surprise me now that I know, but if I told you why, that would give away where I work. You know the score.

I've spent the week paying bills (which don't go away), taking care of my car (the 2005 Scion XB, which will be sold soon), reading, Going through stuff around the house and deciding what to pitch, watching an occasional movie, and ... being bored out of my skull. You see, it's hard to start anything that could go into the next day, because I could wake up at six o'clock one morning, check my inbox, and find out, HEY, BACK TO WORK, SUCKA! Each day starts that way, with Plan A and Plan B.

I've spoken to one other officemate since this began. I haven't heard from anybody else (except for Joe, who would never rat me out -- probably). No one knows anything.

The Washington Post did an interesting piece last week on the history of government shutdowns. There have been seventeen of them up to now, and they make for fascinating reading. The longest was for 21 days, and ran from December 5, 1995 to January 6, 1996. Not everyone was off for that long, however. There are eleven appropriations bills in the federal budget (when we have one), and all cabinet departments and agencies are grouped under any one of them. Unless we simply limp along at current spending levels through what is called a "continuing resolution," the Defense appropriation would likely be passed first. The one for my agency is probably somewhere close behind. (Don't ask.)

The last time this happened, my part of the federal bureaucracy was only off for three or four days, and I got paid. (Depending on the circumstances, it's often cheaper to do so than not to in the long run, or so it has been argued.) What will happen this time? Well, it depends on who you ask, but it would require a separate decision by Congress. And the rumors, oh, the rumors. One informed source says, no way we're getting paid for being off, not in this political climate. Another equally informed source says, oh, yeah, they're gonna pay us, don't worry. I'm not worried, since I made plans for this sort of thing. I'm good for a month. After that, I'm not sure.

We'll see what next week brings. My guess is (if I had to) that this will be over by the end of next week. The adverse effects to the economy, at least locally, are already being felt. Meanwhile, we have two video clips from June of 2012, a two-part interview by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, with think-tankers Norman Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute) and Thomas Mann (Brookings Institute) about the decline of cooperative problem-solving in Washington.