Furloughs: This may not be a drill

Monday - 1/14/2013, 2:00am EST

Like most reporters who've covered the people side of government for a L-O-N-G time, I am skeptical when politicians threaten to "shut down" the government. The threats are a dime a dozen. Shutdowns and furloughs are rare indeed.

Many people think the D.C., in Washington, D.C., stands for District of Columbia. That's what they want you to believe! In fact, the D.C. is an ancient Etruscan word: Da Crisis.

Trouble and threats — from climate change to killer bees — are for us what botox and breast implants are to Hollywood. Vital to stay in business.

The couple of hundred square miles of land inside the Beltway is crisis central. The media must report 24/7. And weird weather, early flu outbreaks and injured quarterbacks only take us so far. Think tanks, lobbyists, lawyers and organizations that favor larger government (or oppose Big Brother) have jobs to do and jobs (starting with theirs) to protect. No crisis, no work. Hence, D.C.

Over the past six months most of the beat reporters I've talked with — including me — never thought that politicians of both political persuasions (even at their most stupid) would drive us off the fiscal cliff. In fact, most of us never heard the term fiscal cliff, much less sequestration, before last year. Did your father ever tell your mother that her spending habits would drive the family over the fiscal cliff? Did your mother ever threaten to sequester you if you were caught smoking or got a tattoo?

While we were covering the fiscal cliff story in the last half of 2012, most of us did a lot of eye-rolling. Many said and wrote that they didn't think it would happen. But as it got closer with no resolution in sight, the self-destruction package seemed to tick louder.

Of course it didn't happen. Congress did what it does best, which is to come up with a half-baked, last-minute solution leaving a real decision to a later date (in this case early March). But that was then...

As Rocky said to Bullwinkle (or the other way around), maybe it really is "this time for sure" time.

The same reporters and experts who earlier had doubts about the fiscal cliff are not so sure this time. A lot of them think that a shutdown and furloughs are not only possible but probable. There is talk of 20-plus days of furloughs. Agencies would have leeway, but most likely if they happen they would be one day per week or one day per pay period. Reduction-in-force rules (and costs) are being reexamined.

In past shutdowns, like the big one in 1995-96, workers were sent home. That included civil servants on detail to the White House, which was left in the hands of political appointees and interns. But nobody during that shutdown (except contractors) lost a nickel. Congress voted to pay workers. The House GOP lost the public-relations battle. For more than a decade, shutdowns lost their appeal.

Last year, some FAA personnel were furloughed during a partial shutdown of the agency. In that case, Congress did not agree to reimburse them. But the Transportation Department managed to find the funds to do so. The result: another high-profile furlough which turned into a paid (if surprise) vacation for the employees involved.

This time things could be different: The real stuff could hit the fan.

What can you, as an individual, do? Short answer: Not much.

Financial planners have long said that people should have an emergency fund. Some say it should be six months worth of expenses, some eight, some a year or more. It is a little late to accumulate an emergency fund of that size. But it might be smart to start if Congress and the White House fumble things and you get an earlier-than-planned vacation.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

People can lip-read themselves better than they can strangers, according to recent research from Washington University.

(Source: ScienceNewsline)


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