The View From Your Shutdown

Oct 2, 2013 @ 9:30am

A reader writes:

I’ve been reading your blog since the fall of 2002, and today I thought I’d share my perspective on the shutdown. I work as a senior advisor at one of the military commands in Afghanistan.  I don’t work for DoD; I work for one of the foreign affairs agencies.  I’ve been in one of the more dangerous places in Afghanistan for about 15 months now.  We get shelled frequently by the Taliban.  I’ve loaded flag-draped caskets containing the bodies of co-workers onto cargo planes.  I have a wife and some beautiful children that I don’t get to see very much on account of my work.

Unlike my military colleagues, my agency has not been exempted from the shutdown.  I’m deemed essential personnel by virtue of my service in Afghanistan, meaning I’m basically required to go to work, but I’m working for an IOU.  In addition, the longer this goes on, the more likely it is that I won’t be able to take leave and see my family any time soon.

I think you’ve covered the utter betrayal of our government by Republican congressmen pretty well.  But I think you raise an important point when you say that anyone who sees this as some kind of good faith compromise between two sides is complicit in this shocking turn of events. What gets me as much as the cynical Republican strategy is my supposed friends who enable it. I’ve gotten into more than a few debates with friends who support this – and also go out of their way to thank me for my service.

What I’ve taken to doing is explaining to them the practical effects of the actions they support and then asking them if they’d like to fly out here and join me in volunteering, pro bono, for their country.  Suddenly their tone of certainty changes and it’s equivocation time.  It’s a complete act of cowardice by people who, by and large, have never done anything for their country.

Is it any surprise that people feel this way?  Generations of American politicians have made it into office by tearing down the very government they want to join.  When I joined the government over a decade ago, I was amazed at how many competent, dedicated professionals I came across, many of who could have taken much more lucrative jobs in the private sector (and many of whom left such jobs to join the government).  These are people who believe in America and believe in service.

But the joke’s on us, because decades of spiteful rhetoric has conditioned Americans to view us as a blight on the landscape, a detractor from (rather than contributor to) this country.  And now, with this, I have to say, I feel completely and utterly betrayed by the people elected to represent me.  I’ve never had a more disheartening moment in my decade-plus long career in the service of my country, and that includes the time I was living overseas when Abu Ghraib blew up. It’s sickening.

Oct 2, 2013 @ 7:09pm

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A reader writes:

I am a big fan of the Dish, but I have never emailed you about a post until I read this one.  Not only are countless vacations being ruined by Congress, but countless small businesses in tourist towns are suffering as a result of the ridiculous actions of these Tea Party politicians.

I own and operate several hotels in Gettysburg, PA.

In July we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, and in November we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  Needless to say, we have had a very busy year, as more tourists than ever have been flocking to Gettysburg to stay, shop, eat, and visit the battlefield attractions.

Well, since yesterday the Gettysburg Military Park and Visitors’ Center has been closed.  As a result we have already had a few cancellations from regular customers, a school group who was spending a night with us on their way to DC has postponed their visit, and we are facing the cancellation of a military group that was renting out a third of our rooms for a three night stay next week.  I cannot blame these groups for canceling their visit, but I do blame these House Republicans for shutting down our government and costing the merchants and town of Gettysburg thousands of dollars a day in tourist revenue.  The House Republicans are hurting many small businesses in towns like Gettysburg across the country, and they deserve nothing but the scorn of the American people.

Oct 2, 2013 @ 8:32pm

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A reader writes:

I’m on furlough, and for the first time, I am worried that this might be more than a couple-day affair. And for the first time, I’m worrying about how this is going to impact the household budget, wondering if I might need to apply for unemployment benefits if this lingers on (and just how I go about doing that). But you are right. Obama’s got to hang tough and not give into the thuggery. I so damn sick of hearing the GOP complain about how Obama won’t negotiate. THIS is simply not anything to be negotiated over!

Another sends the above photo:

I know this is a minor inconvenience compared to, say, a federal employee not getting a pay check, but I was LIVID when I drove up to my favorite place to run at the Chatahoochee Recreation area to find it closed. There is some irony that I have to find a new place to exercise because Republicans are unhinged about a healthcare law.

Another reader:

Thank you for publishing that letter from Afghanistan. I also work in a foreign affairs agency that is not DoD, and I am continuing to show up to work (albeit safely in DC). It feels absurd to be showing up to work in an office that supports democracy abroad when our own government is a shambles. This shutdown is defeating and exhausting, especially for civil servants, since Congress shows no interest in or concern for the plight of any non-military federal employee.

Yesterday, all federal employees received a letter from the president:

You do all this in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag. You have endured three years of a Federal pay freeze, harmful sequester cuts, and now, a shutdown of our Government. And yet, you persevere, continuing to serve the American people with passion, professionalism, and skill.

None of this is fair to you. And should it continue, it will make it more difficult to keep attracting the kind of driven, patriotic, idealistic Americans to public service that our citizens deserve and that our system of self-government demands.

People of all ideologies rail against The Government as if it is a faceless bureaucracy operated by mindless minions who serve rules and red tape. The reality is, we are made up of people who are enforcing and implementing the very laws that Americans have asked for through their elected officials, from the Iraq war to the Affordable Care Act.

We have rules and processes, because not only are we America’s largest employer, but we have to provide a level of accountability and transparency to the American public that is unheard of in the private sector. And yes, of course there are people and offices that are deadweight and drag us all down. But only an ideologue would ignore the political interests behind most of our poor policy choices, or try to pretend that the private sector doesn’t struggle with poor performers.

Can you imagine if, on a whim, a private company’s board told employees not to show up? And then if that company told its employees they wouldn’t get paid because they weren’t working? Who in the world would want to work there? How would they ever recruit and retain top talent to stay at the top of their field? I cannot imagine having a family and this kind of pay uncertainty, and I cannot believe that Congressional Republicans would so easily throw us under the bus. And yet, here we are.

I am tired of being told that “Washington is broken.”  It can always be better, but Washington is not broken. Congress is broken, and it won’t get better until Americans hold their elected officials accountable. But between gerrymandering and the current campaign finance situation, I’m losing hope.

Oct 3, 2013 @ 9:30am

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A reader quotes another:

“I’m on furlough, and …. I’m worrying about how this is going to impact the household budget, wondering if I might need to apply for unemployment benefits if this lingers on (and just how I go about doing that).” I’m employed by a state university but my office is located at a federal research lab. I’m not allowed in my office during the shutdown and I can’t access the federal computers and datasets, but I’m expected to work as best as I can and I will continue to be paid. I know I am fortunate compared to my federal colleagues!

At the final, pre-shutdown “Town Hall Meeting” in the federal lab on Monday, one of the federal scientists asked about unemployment. Someone in the audience had researched that: regulations vary by state, and in our state a furloughed federal employee cannot apply for unemployment benefits because they are considered still employed (even though they are not allowed to go to work and are not being paid)!  I don’t even know what part of that last sentence to emphasize. The human toll is potentially huge.

Another reader:

I’m a federal employee, and so is my wife (we have two kids in college).  I can’t complain too much (at least in the short run); we’re prudent and we have some savings.  But between the two of us, the shutdown is costing us about $500/day.  If we end up getting it back, that’ll make a rather big difference.

But in the interim, we’re slowing the economy. How? Just today, our contractor came by; he was going to start to do $3000 of repairs of a basement struck with mold (to which I am severely allergic).  We told him: sorry, we can’t afford it now, go home.  So even though we are weathering the shutdown (in the short term), those who rely upon our spending are getting hurt.


I run a small, rural domestic violence and rape crisis center in Northern California. We are the only provider of this kind for the entire county and we are supported through funds from the Violence Against Women Act. We just received this email from our grant monitor in Sacramento regarding our federal funds:

Office of Justice Programs (OJP) have sufficient resources to remain operational through Friday, October 4, 2013.  This means that OJP staff will be available to assist grantees and OJP payment systems and services will be available through October 4, 2013. Should funding not be restored by October 4, 2013, OJP will cease all operations and California will not be able to draw down funds and reimburse your invoices.

This means the State of California cannot draw down the VAWA funds to pay us for our services – which by the way, are mandated by law. We are not quality-of-life providers, like social services, but we’re not quite emergency services providers either, like law enforcement. We are somewhere in between and apparently not considered essential.

I can tell you with some certainty that many of the rural domestic violence shelters (who don’t have wealthy communities to draw from) will not be operational should the VAWA funding not be rolling down as scheduled. I can also tell you with certainty, that right now almost every shelter in the State is housing not only adult victims of abuse, but many, many children, all of whom may be forced to hit the rickety road soon, compliments of the mostly males members of the “shutdown coalition”.


Yes I’m on furlough, but who cares. What is that compared to a small group of thugs hijacking my country in hopes that the uninsured will remain so. Crush them. As long as it takes.

Oct 3, 2013 @ 8:30pm

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More readers share their stories:

Yup, I’m a federal employee who was furloughed.  And because of it, I can’t afford to keep paying my husband’s home health aid (he’s a 30-year paraplegic and 4-year stroke survivor).  Not only will I be home to tend him, but I won’t have the income to pay this good, hard-working young lady.  And because she has lost HER income, she will have to let go her child’s babysitter.

Update from a reader:

About the woman who “can’t afford to keep paying” her husband’s personal health aide.  It’s three days into the shutdown.  She will almost certainly be reimbursed.  Does she have no personal savings whatsoever?  If so, shame on her.  I find that those on the Democratic side often pay lip service to the idea of individual responsibility, but I wonder sometimes what they think it means.  A federal employee with full health benefits and a good federal savings plan really has no excuse for not having, at the very least, six months of living expenses saved up.  That is basic personal finance.  No doubt, some people are hurting from the sequester and the shutdown, but this knee-jerk helplessness is frankly annoying.


I work at the National Science Foundation. As you can see from the photo, we shut down photo-29completely. So, I’ve been furloughed. I had hoped it’d be a day, perhaps two at most, but by the looks of it now, it might last into next week and beyond.

This is costing a fortune. Part of my work is planning and organizing very needed collaborative meetings between scientists. I have several coming up. If the shutdown continues another week, those will be postponed or canceled with the attending loss of monies that were sunk into flights, rentals, etc. In my event alone, dozens of scientists and educators will have to cancel flights and plans and NSF will have to eat the cost. Of course this doesn’t take into account the hundreds of man hours of preparation it took to get this meeting off the ground, which now will have been for naught.

And I’m not getting paid. I can handle a few days, but the further this goes on, the more likely it is this will turn into a hardship. I absolutely love my job. I believe it is a huge benefit to our nation and to people. I love it because I truly believe that. I go into every day of work with a purpose that benefits the nation and mankind, and I work with amazing people. What more could a man want?

And yet I am not even allowed to work with no pay during the shutdown. It’s actually against the law. I honestly wish I could.

Fiscal conservatives? Surely not.


I’m an attorney for nonprofits and small businesses.  Because of the shutdown, it’s impossible to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which in most cases is required in order to open a corporate bank account.  Without a bank account, my startup clients simply cannot begin operating.  (Before someone raises the idea, using a personal bank account can lead to personal liability – something we never recommend.) Talk about grinding business to a halt.  Any Republican who says the shutdown is just a “slimdown” clearly isn’t trying to start a business.


My 18-year-old daughter was supposed to start a year of community service in AmeriCorps on Oct. 7 in Denver, where one imagines they could use some young, barely paid idealists to help with the flood damage.  She was very excited to get started on this adventure, and deferred her college start date for a year in order to serve.  What message have we sent her and all those who work for lower pay and lower appreciation in public service?

While the Neo-Confederate toddlers stamp their feet and hold their breath, it is America that is turning blue.

Many more stories below:

First of all, I promise to [tinypass_offer text=”subscribe”].  I’ve just been too busy to pull out the credit card, but I will do so now after I send this note. Anyway, the view from my shutdown is this: I am the Chair of the Board of a non-profit organization that does a great deal of work on a variety of science issues.  I would say that about a quarter of our effort is with federal partners.  We scheduled a small conference for this month about two years ago and the staff of the organization spent a considerable amount of time and money in putting it together.  It is looking more likely that we will cancel the event, since many of the participants cannot attend now.

In addition, we work with our federal partners on a number of science issues and all of this work is looking like it will be delayed  considerably and the staff of our organization is having to jump into other projects, only to likely jump back when the government becomes sane again.  Some of this work is rather time sensitive and will require starting experiments over.

As the chairman of the board of this organization, I am starting to strategize how we can better align our resources so we do not have to work with an increasingly erratic and anti-science federal government.  We also work with a number of state and local governments and they are very easy to work with and do not have these insane battles.  It is looking increasingly like state and local governments are the adults in the overall governance of our nation.


I’m a medical research scientist focused on developing therapy for ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). Half of my funding comes from private foundations such as the ALS Association; the other half from the National Institutes of Health. With the shutdown, we’ve been told that we are permitted to proceed using the funds already disbursed, but not to expect any further funding until the shutdown is over. We will be OK for a few weeks and then the programs will begin to rapidly degrade. The consequences of the shutdown will be amplified by the way NIH funding is a rolling system.

I also review grant applications to the NIH on ALS research. I’m not paid to do this; it’s a service many of us do out of scientific citizenship. About 1 in 11 of these grants get funded typically, but it will be awhile before any new grants are processed because the entire system is shut down. For every day this system is shut down, it will take 2-3 days to get through the backlog in addition to the new work.


I think that this is a very important thread because it brings to life the very real consequences created by a very small group of wack-jobs.  Next week I was planning to take my family on a vacation to see the Grand Canyon for the very first time.  We have been excitedly planning this trip for the past 8 months.  My daughters have been learning about the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas and we were excited to finally be able to see this amazing place with our own eyes.  I cancelled the trip this morning.

It’s unfortunate that we won’t be seeing the Canyon, but what’s more important is that a handful of restaurants, hotels, gas stations and gift shops will not be getting my money.  We had planned on around $2000 for the trip for hotels, food, gas gifts and sight seeing.  I know that this doesn’t sound like a lot but it adds up when hundreds if not thousands of others are being forced to do the very same thing.  The funniest part about this is that the congressman who represents Northern Arizona is one of the Republican wack-jobs responsible for this shutdown, so in a way I’m happy my money will not be supporting his district.

One more reader:

My best friend’s brother is a park ranger in Utah in charge of making sure no one enters a national park in Southern Utah, which is closed while the government is shutdown. Yesterday he spent the day being cursed at, cried to, and even spit at (seriously, people?) for having to turn visitors away at the gate. It’s unfortunate and not right, but it’s not the first time that people take out their anger and frustration on the messenger.

But similar reprehensible actions coming from a US Representative, in public, to a government worker? Unconscionable. Not much showcases the Beltway bubble more than seeing and hearing a congressman shaming a government worker for doing her job, whose current duties are a direct ramification of that very congressman’s neglect to do his own job. They’re so insulated within their echo chamber they’re completely divorced from reality. And these are the people threatening the entire world economy without even knowing their own demands.

Oct 4, 2013 @ 8:28am

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A reader writes:

I’m trying to bring my fiancee, who currently lives in Mongolia, to the United States on a K-1 visa. We were both ecstatic when my K-1 visa application was recently approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The next step is for the approved visa application to be forwarded to the National Visa Center, and from there to the U.S. Consulate in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. As I watched the news about the attempt to pass a CR, I thought that it was unfortunate, but wouldn’t affect me directly.

Then suddenly it occurred to me that visa processing was almost certainly considered a “non-essential” government service, so I looked it up, and sure enough, immigration services is one of the things that will be severely curtailed or completely halted by the government shutdown. Which means that my reunion with my fiancee, which had looked to be on track to happen by the end of the year, is now being postponed indefinitely until the shutdown is resolved.

Update from a reader:

I work for USCIS and I can assure you that this is not true. Immigration services within DHS and DOS are entirely fee based. Immigration paperwork is being processed as normal. The only delay will be the normal processing delay that accompanies any application or petition.


I work for the Indian Health Service on the Navajo reservation. My rural hospital is “essential” and we are still open for business. We are continuing to get paid, although we cannot take sick leave or vacation. It was heartbreaking to see one of our medical records employees coming back into work on Tuesday less than two weeks after having a baby. Like most of our staff, she is Navajo. The unemployment rate on the reservation nears 50%, so anyone with even a low wage job supports many extended family members. She could not afford to take unpaid leave.

As much as the shutdown impacts our staff, it hurts our patients more. On October 1st, we got an email stating that we do not have funds to pay for medical care outside of our system. We do not employ cardiologists, oncologists, neurosurgeons, etc. All pending appointments that are not urgently life or limb threatening are cancelled until further notice.

Today, October 3, we got another email stating that our pharmacy does not have funds to buy medicines. We are only ordering medications that are “of a life saving and sustaining nature.” We already work hard to keep medication costs low. But now, for just one example, we are no longer able to stock medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis, a disease with particularly high rates in our population.

The United States government is bound by treaty to provide health care for Native Americans. The lack of a budget is gravely impacting our ability to honor that that obligation.


I am a furloughed government employee.  This government shutdown is so disheartening. I work in an office that deals with international issues and coordinates with the equivalent agencies in other countries.  We send delegates frequently to conferences to coordinate cooperative pilot programs, capacity building exercises for developing countries, and the negotiation of international agreements.  International meetings are on-going despite the shut-down, and the United States has lost its voice, investments, and subject matter experts for the time being.

It pains me that we have all be locked out of our offices and the missions we serve.  However, it’s merely the final step in a long line of insults: no cost of living increases for four years, endless budget uncertainty due to a revolving door of continuing resolutions, hiring freezes, cuts, and the still-continuing sequester.  My agency has not seen a Senate-confirmed leader in four years.  We have endured audits of 15 years worth of travel and conferences because of the GSA Law Vegas Scandal, though we had nothing to do with it. We are cautioned to not do anything that could be perceived as partisan in the wake of the IRS non-scandal, and have to make unnecessary, inconvenient, expensive accommodations to ensure that our office’s activities ensure money/attention flowing towards the states of the chairmen and ranking members of the congressional committees that oversee us.  We’re called leeches and ne’er-do-wells and told we “never created a single job.”

I hate the stereotypes that the Tea-Party has assigned government workers and greatly wish that Speaker Boehner and his party could come and meet us.  My office is so diverse: we have grandparents, thirty and forty-somethings, and childless millennials.  We have veterans from all five armed service branches, including those who saw active combat in Vietnam, Desert Storm, Kosovo, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  We come from almost every state, and numerous colleges, universities, and career paths.

We don’t always agree on everything, but everyone works hard to pursue our office’s mission as a group, and navigate the sometimes draconian regulations that reflect an inherent distrust of us.  We all value public service, and there are several co-workers who cannot speak about 9/11 without getting emotional.  This is a very painful time emotionally as well as financially/logistically.  Some of my co-workers with decades of experience are actively looking for other work, which would be a huge loss to my agency’s institutional memory.  I can only imagine how many more across the entire government workforce are now doing the same.

I know I’m probably just a chump, but I believe it’s an honor to serve the People of the United States, and I got teary-eyed when I took my oath to “support and defend the Constitution…”  I wonder if the Republicans really believe they are upholding the Constitution as they strive to bring the U.S. to default to invalidate a legitimately passed and judicially-reviewed law?

Read the entire “View From Your Shutdown” series here.

Oct 7, 2013 @ 8:07pm

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Stories for our popular series continue:

I’m a federal employee furloughed from my job teaching at one of the military academies. Our academy leadership decided to keep classes running while the 30% of our faculty who are civilian had to stay home. That means not only that civilian faculty like me have no work and no pay, but military faculty are teaching two or three sections of cadets combined. Some upper-level classes have been suspended, and fourth-year cadets who need these classes to graduate may be in danger of not meeting their course requirements for graduation. But pretty soon it will be hard to give them credit for the courses.


I am yet another furloughed employee in the DC area. I am frustrated. I am sick of being demonized. I have had to turn off the news because I just get a lump in my throat every time someone asks why the government even has nonessential employees or a Congressman says he is keeping his paycheck because he earned it. I felt like Congressman Neugebauer was talking to me when he was yelling at that poor park ranger. Since when was doing your job something to be ashamed of?

Yesterday I got an email from my employees union saying they would be rallying at the Capitol photo (27)today. Since I can’t be at work, I wandered down there this morning. I saw hundreds of employees from the various federal employee unions chanting “We want to work!” and “Let them vote!” I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I teared up. I’ve been a union member for years, but it wasn’t until this year that I realized just how important they are. They are looking out for us when no one else is. There were numerous members of Congress out at the rally, too, expressing support. I didn’t see one Republican though. Not one. They hate us. For doing our jobs. And their behavior has just made a big union supporter out of me!

I read to my son every night. Lately he has been asking for us to read a children’s Bible he got for his Baptism. Last night I read the story of how Jesus was so kind to Zacchaeus the tax collector. I know the federal government isn’t perfect, and I fully support making improvements. I just wish these nominally Christian right-wingers would stop demonizing all of us and start looking at the logs in their own eyes.


My husband is a real estate agent and recently sold a house that was owned by a federal government employee.  The government was paying for the relocation, but as a result of the shutdown, the payment of the real estate commission is being held up.  In his case, it is $14,000 he was expecting at the first of this month, but won’t get until the shutdown is over and then know who knows how long after that.

One of several more readers:

I do not now work for the federal government and am following my usual schedule, but the environmental change in DC is huge. It took me less than 30 minutes to get to my destination in downtown DC today, unheard of for a Monday morning even when Congress is not in session. At Union Station, most of the restaurants have substantial amounts of their dining areas closed off and the remainder sparsely populated – they have to be hurting.  The Starbucks, whose line usually extends at least 20 feet out into the station, had half a dozen people waiting. The whole place was hushed – and it’s usually a three-ring circus on weekdays at lunch hour.  Dupont Circle looks dead.

But I had to smile this weekend.  Some roads in Rock Creek Park have been left open as they really are major traffic routes, but most are blocked off, as are all picnic and recreation areas.  But on this sunny Sunday, cars were parked right up against those barriers and on nearby level grass, and people were having picnics, playing frisbee with dogs and otherwise enjoying THEIR park.  I saw one young woman in riding clothes exit her car near a barrier and stride off defiantly in the direction of the stable.  The parks belong to the people.  Dammit, the whole country belongs to the people.  This is a farce.  Just hope it ends before becoming a tragedy.


A point yet to be brought up is that American students living abroad are coming to that time of having to pay for their terms. I’m currently an overseas student, who thanks to school support and financially well-off parents, does not have to worry about this. But I have more than a few friends who are currently abroad with ZERO loan money being disbursed out, even though it’s being reported that this should not be a problem for a majority of loan programs.

This is not only an issue from an education standpoint, but a livelihood one,as well. These people are having to rely on infrequent, and expensive money wires or close friends to get by. Furthermore, if you want to talk about US prestige in the eyes of the international community, nothing looks worse than the government being a deadbeat dad and failing to pony up funds for education. All is not lost, as some universities are developing schemes of directly loaning American students money against what they say they will pay. But this is still deplorable state of affairs being largely ignored by those most responsible.


As I read these stories of the effects of this shutdown on employees of the federal government and the businesses like hotels adjacent to national parks, and how the effects cascade down to the people who depend on those employees and businesses for their livelihoods, the phrase “trickle-down economics” keeps coming to mind. It would seem that “trickle-down” actually works after all, but not in a very good way.

You can follow the Dish’s ongoing shutdown coverage here.