Cameron Diaz and the Government Shutdown

I don’t know about you, but both my all-time favorite dream and my worst nightmare are work-related:

In the good dream, actresses Cameron Diaz, Laura Linney and Helen Mirren are with me at our seaside villa in Tahiti. They sit transfixed as I explain the wisdom of dollar cost averaging in the Thrift Savings Plan. They are momentarily distracted only by a passing sea gull, and my six-pack abs and thick, wavy hair.

In my ultimate nightmare, I have been consigned to Hades where I will spend eternity explaining the rationale behind the Social Security Offset formula to a group of unhappy federal retirees.

So it is with veteran federal workers as they recall the last time (1995-96) when the government had a major shutdown. In yesterday’s column, we asked them what it was really like. Here are some responses, with more to come:

  • “Yes I was smack in the middle. And it was not fun. So no, you could not leave the city/state because it would take longer to return and you would then have to use your annual leave, if you had any. The day they pass the budget you are supposed to be back on duty the next day. So leaving the state for a ‘vacation’ would not work out. Besides, remember we had not been paid for two weeks already. When you live from pay check to pay check you do not have extra money around for a trip. And yes, we government workers get rather tired with the accusations that we are not working hard. Come fill in for just one day, one of our jobs. You will learn quickly how much work is required. Cut the congressional salaries in half and that would be a good thing. Leave all of us GS workers alone.” Small Business Administration
  • “During the first shutdown I was MUCH younger than I am now. I remember staying up late and hanging out with my friends. If I remember correctly, we also had a snowstorm soon thereafter in the Washington area and I was off work again. At the end of it all, when I got paid for that time off (I think it was 4 weeks in total), my friends were pretty surprised. If past events are any indication of the future, I guess the Republicans are interested in again paying me not to come to work. So be it! (P.S. This time I won’t be staying up late – promise!)” FDA
  • “15 yrs ago, I was working for Lockheed Martin supporting a national security program while my wife (of only 1 year) was a program support specialist for SAIC supporting an EPA contract. We were young, recently married and carrying a new mortgage and 2 car payments (not to mention student loans). The shutdown hit us like a ton of bricks. While my customer was able to designate me as ‘essential’ and therefore able to work through the shutdown, my wife was not. SAIC, at the time, told all nonessential employees to stay in the local area in the event that the congressional and White House game of chicken was resolved. Her time off was hardly a vacation. Within 2 days of the shutdown, we began to become very concerned about our ability to meet our financial obligations. Unlike Government employees, we knew her time away from the office would not be paid, even after the resolution. As such, we scrambled to find any form of paid work for her to do during the shutdown. Luckily, her sister, who was a nurse, spoke to the Doctor running the practice and convinced her to allow my wife to work temporarily in the administration office answering phones, filing paperwork etc. Regrettably, I don’t remember the Doctor’s name, but at the time, she was an absolute lifesaver to us. Three weeks passed, the congress and President Clinton resolved their differences and everyone went back to work. Our government colleagues returned with inflated stories of fishing trips in Aruba, skiing expeditions in Vale, and time spent with the family; all the while resting comfortably with the knowledge that their pay would be delayed but not interrupted. Meanwhile, some of our contractor colleagues never returned to work, opting instead for their temporary job where they felt more respected as a valued contributor and less like an expendable and avoidable cost. ” K.K.
  • “Just before the last government shutdown, I had sprained my ankle and was on unplanned sick leave. As a nurse at a VA medical center, I would have been expected to remain on duty. I was ecstatic afterward when I found out that not only would I not be charged sick leave but that I would also receive full pay for being home.” Pat of the VA.
  • “I’ve been working for the federal government for 34 years now. I’ve been through one actual RIF and the shutdown you speak of. When the shutdown happened, if you were paid by appropriated funds, you could not work. If you were at a field site, paid by a your main command/agency, then you weren’t affected. As for contractors not getting paid, I’m a little confused. They also were already paid for, via their contract, and also should not have been effected. Anyhow, when the government did shutdown, those affected, all thought we were not getting paid for the time off. After we went back to work, government decided to pay the government employees even though they did not work. That particular shutdown event upset the public taxpayers and for good reason. We got paid even though we did not work. Of course, there is more detailed information, but no situation is in black and white, as this is not either. It seems a crisis has to happen before Congress will actually make the issue a priority.” Anon at Navy
  • “I had signed up for annual leave to visit family out of town over Christmas. Basically I got a leave-free vacation. Because of that I was finally able to get my leave balance to use-or-lose status. I also had enough in savings that I could cover my expenses for several months had it gone on too long. On top of that we couldn’t return to work the day the furlough ended because of a huge blizzard that shut down the town and government another week. The public was more than furious and the blame fell on the Republicans, especially Newt Gingrich. People who had saved for a vacation to DC over the holidays found all the monuments closed, the Smithsonian was closed, the Capitol building was closed to tours. those folks were mad, too, because it was lots of money and their personal vacation time down the drain. For once the American public realized that federal workers really are a vital piece of America.” Nancy, Warrenton, Va.

To reach me:

Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

When asked which of the city’s boroughs are most romantic, MaristPoll finds only 3 percent of New Yorkers said the Bronx.


UPDATED: Federal furlough FAQ
Can you use vacation and paid leave during a shutdown? And what happens to contractors?

Will feds eye TSP as fast cash in shutdown?
If they are furloughed, federal employees might be tempted to turn to their Thrift Savings Plan. But the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board’s Tom Trabucco says withdrawing from the TSP means you have to time the market right twice – both when you take out the funds and when you put them back in.

Shoop: Weekend shutdown ‘tempting’ to some
A shutdown over the March 4 weekend might be one scenario of the stalled budget talks, said Tom Shoop, editor-in-chief of Government Executive.