One of the things many federal workers say motivates them to choose a career in public service is the ability to help other people.
But when those same feds have to take an unpaid furlough day due to sequestration, not only are they losing a day’s pay, they’re losing an opportunity to help others.
That’s not the case with two federal employees who have found a way to turn a lost day of work due to sequestration into something positive.
Warren Schaeffer, an IT specialist at the Defense Information Systems Agency, was talking earlier this year to fellow feds in the men’s group at his church. They were batting around ideas, trying to figure out what they were going to do on their day off from work.
“This idea just cropped up,” Schaeffer told Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp Friday. “Let’s just have a service day and invite church members and anybody else in the community to come out and serve the community, because that’s what we’re all about, serving the other folks that are really in need and take our minds of the thing, that we’re still doing something useful, that we’re not just wasting our time.”
Schaeffer lives in Fredericksburg, Va., which has a large population of federal employees who commute into Washington, D.C. Service project participants have come from a variety of agencies, including NSA, FAA, DoD and DISA. He and his colleagues performed yard work for people in need and pitched in at Habitat for Humanity, helping to replace shelving.
“We had one single mom who moved into a new home, and the yard was trashed outside,” Schaeffer said. “We’ve gone down and cleaned out all their trash and made about four dump runs. We’ve powerwashed one individual’s home that was in dire straights. The homeowner’s association was getting all over her case. She was another single mom.”
Eric Lackey, a Defense Department intelligence analyst stationed in Germany, took a different approach to serving others. On March 1 — the day sequestration went into effect — he launched Furlough2013.com, an online resource for people seeking information about furloughs.
“There was so many rumors and speculation how the furlough was going to work and what rights federal workers had,” Lackey told Federal Drive. “So, I went out and gathered as many resources as I could find that would allow federal employees to be more informed about what was going on.”
Lackey also sells furlough-themed merchandise to provide a way for people to express their opinions about the furloughs. He’s sold a few hundred pieces of merchandise, mostly T-shirts, mugs and campaign buttons.
“You see maybe people buying 50 buttons and then handing them out at work to their colleagues or maybe 10 coffee mugs, so an entire office might be sporting our coffee mugs,” Lackey said. “It’s been pretty exciting. It’s kind of been a fun part of it and it helps fund the cost of running the website.”
Lackey has done most of the work on the website himself, though his wife assisted him with graphic design.
“But, as far as the website content and different webpage development, I’ve done that on my own,” he said. “That’s one of the things about being stationed overseas is when I get home, I have the evening hours when other folks are at work and the news is coming out to get the information posted online, as well as shoot it out over Facebook and Twitter.”
Friday is the final furlough day for many DoD civilian employees, and other agencies will soon wrap up their furloughs as well.
“Today, we’re going to go out and finish up a yard that we started up last week,” Schaeffer said. “We didn’t get it all completed. And then the rest of the group is going to finish painting up the classrooms to get ready for Sunday school.”
He hopes to continue the community service with his fellow feds once they’re all back on the clock full-time.
“What we’re planning on doing is maybe once or twice a month on Saturday is still continue doing service projects,” Schaeffer said. “We do them now with the United Methodist men’s group. We’ll have that part and we’ll have another Saturday where we’ll invite guys to come in and continue with the service projects.”
Furloughs may be ending for 2013, but Lackey has already started preparing for a new round next year.
“We have already made plans to continue it with a new website,” he said. “I went ahead and purchased some names, just to be prepared. We’re not sure, but we think we’re going to go in the direction of something that will be more long-term and just provide information to folks and maybe turn it into a blog for people to go on and continue to share information.”
Read more stories from our Surviving Furloughs series. Plus find out how you can donate to FEEA or apply for a FEEA loan.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.