A month off (without pay)?

Tuesday - 3/20/2012, 2:00am EDT

If you've got friends in the organized crime world, here's some good news you may want to pass along. It could earn you a big tip. Or at least a pass should you at some future date turn rat.

The good news:

The FBI may have to shut down — for a month or more — next year. While crime statistics are down in many places, that isn't the reason the G-men and women, and other Justice Department employees may be told to take an extended break. Without pay.

The furloughs, if they take place, would begin early next year as part of the sequestration process. That's an across-the-board budget cut hitting nearly every federal agency regardless of the importance of its mission. The cuts would happen if Congress doesn't come up with a plan to trim just over one trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years.

For details, click here.

The bad guys in this case are members of Congress. It has been years since they did what they are elected for and paid to do: Pay the bills on time. It has been 15 years and counting since Congress completed all its required budget and appropriations work on deadline. It was 15 years ago (1995-96) that most government workers were furloughed and sent home because Congress and the White House couldn't agree on a budget. Each called the other's bluff.

During that furlough, hundreds of career civil servants who had been detailed to the White House had to be sent home. No pay, no work. Interns were allowed to keep coming to work at the White House. We know how that worked out.

That was then; this is now.

If Congress fails to come up with a deficit-reduction plan, the sequestration process would begin in January. Since this is an election year, many people think Congress will do little or no heavy lifting until after November. Meaning it will be nail-biting time for lots of federal officials, employees and citizens who bankroll the government and depend upon it for money, protection, health and safety.

The Justice Department recently said that its worst-case scenario under sequestration would involve furloughing eight out of every 10 employees for an average of 25 days. You'll be hearing and reading of more possible government service cuts over the summer.

In Washington, threats of budget-related service cuts are known as a WMC: A "Washington Monument Cut." It is what federal agencies that touch the public warn of, if they don't get the money they need to operate. Social Security might hint at a delay in payments. Agriculture might say subsidized school lunches could be in danger. Defense could start spotting Chinese submarines off Norfolk.

The WMC example applies to the public-friendly Interior Department. It operates the 555-foot tall Washington Monument, one of the top tourist attractions in D.C. It is especially popular during spring break when millions of tourists, lots of them kids, come here for spring break. Interior closes, or threatens to close, the monument and the kids are disappointed. The same might happen at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky or Yellowstone National Park. Sorry. Closed to taxpayers due to lack of funds. Then people complain to Congress. Deals are struck. Parks and monuments remain open, checks flow, etc.

But it is a sloppy/stupid way to do business. To delay — either out of sloth or for political leverage — then act hastily at the last minute.

Members of the federal family have a lot invested in the current situation, both as substantial taxpayers and as government employees. Some of the cuts that might be approved, to avoid sequestration, could include an extended pay freeze and reduced retirement benefits for future (and possibly current) civil servants. Maybe more.

Meantime the "Washington Monument Cut" is off the table. The monument has been closed since last August when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake 84 miles southeast of D.C. caused structural damage.

Perhaps as a substitute we should seriously consider suspending pay to members of Congress until they do their jobs. What a good idea.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Daydreaming is probably good for your mind, Science Daily reports. It's akin to a mental workout for your "working memory," scientists say.


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