Government shutdown? Maybe not the best time

The fact that politicians are still deal-making over a possible government shutdown shows, at best, a very poor sense of timing. Especially today: It’s the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and we are still in the midst of three super-powerful hurricanes that have already created the greatest natural disaster ever for the U.S. The president’s surprise deal with congressional Democrats has pushed any shutdown future down the line. But it is still an option, even as many bewildered citizens, unfamiliar with the wisdom of political Washington, wonder what’s going on.

Coverage of the hurricanes, their likely destinations, destruction and wind speed has been 24/7. We’ve all seen government workers, military personnel and tens of thousands of private citizens doing their duty. And then some. A friend from Europe said he’s in awe of what we (that is, they — the rescuers and providers) have done. And are still doing, even as the politicians wheel and deal with a shutdown later on (unlikely, but still an option).

Seriously?

Holding part of the government under what amounts to house arrest while denying people promised coverage is a dumb, costly act in the best of times. And these are definitely not the best of times. Especially for those who remember the horror and chaos of the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, which changed America big time, forever. And hurricanes Harvey and Irma, despite their cute names, have changed Florida and Texas. The rebuilding effort will take billions of dollars and maybe decades. And it can’t happen when politicians (who continue to work and draw their pay) put a CLOSED sign on those functions of government that they think we can do without. Finding a federal operation that hasn’t or won’t have some involvement in rebuilding Houston and south Florida — and other areas that got slammed — isn’t easy.

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We’ve seen Homeland Security, ICE, CBP and Coast Guard rescuers on TV. FEMA has been all over the place. People from the Small Business Administration to Agriculture have been all over the place. The Postal Service continued to operate — or save and hold mail — all over the place. We’ve read about the Cajun Navy volunteers who rushed to find, free and feed people stuck on the top floors of their ruined homes. But there are so many others in the government that play a role that most of us don’t ever see, much less know about.

Although I have trouble finding my shoes and keys most mornings, Sept. 11, 2001 is burnt in my brain. Yours too, assuming your brain is in its mid-20s. Or older.

Sixteen years ago today, several of us from the newly formed FederalNewsRadio operation were in a training class on the top floor of our building here in Northwest D.C. One of the tenants from another company in the building came in and asked us what was going on. She figured that as good news hounds, we were on top of it. Apparently, an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. Gulp. Horrible accident, no doubt. Was it a single-engine or a jumbo jet? Neither, as we quickly learned. Then the second aircraft hit and we watched it on TV.

There was another crash, this one at the Pentagon. A friend from the Drug Enforcement Agency called me to say he had seen it come in. Another friend was in her car going to work when the plane flew — way too low — into the building. She saw it almost from ground zero.

The reports came in fast and furious. The CIA had been hit, we heard. The State Department had been hit. There were 4,200 aircraft in the sky that morning. Many of them headed for New York or D.C. One of them, we heard, was heading for the Capitol building. A friend at the Office of Personnel Management called to say they had been evacuated because of their proximity to the White House. Other feds in other agencies gathered in parks. There were reports of shots fired at the Pentagon supposedly from a sniper who was targeting workers as they fled the building and first-responders as they went in.

While sorting the facts from bogus reports, we could see the smoke, black smoke like oil (or aviation fuel) coming from the Pentagon. Being a radio operation, we are located on the highest ground in the District of Columbia. We look down on the Russian Embassy, the Washington Monument, on Georgetown and, of course, the Pentagon across the Potomac in Virginia. No matter where you were that day, you probably have some vivid memories you can’t shake. Or don’t want to.

Most of us — like most people who had jobs to do — operated on auto-pilot. The grieving, the crying mostly came later.

I like to think what we here at FNR did was helpful. And professional. Responsible. But not heroic.

What so many of you and your colleagues did that day was.