Time capsule for sequestration thoughts

Friday - 3/22/2013, 2:00am EDT

Years ago, I think it was on a Monday, a work friend came up to me and said he had good news and bad news. Which did I want first?

I was in my 20s and tough. So I said to give me the bad news first. I feared nothing in those days since I had a cash reserve that would last me through the following Thursday. What could possibly go wrong?

Then he told me.

He told me that a bunch of people were being fired. And I was part of that bunch.

"And the good news?" I said.

We were to get two weeks severance pay!

Whew!

That must be sort of the way a lot of government workers feel now a lot of the time.

The bad news is that they have entered the third year of a pay freeze and face furloughs of up to 22 days over the next six months. Plus, any travel or training they had hoped for in the foreseeable future is probably canceled. Congress has made it clear it isn't finished scaling back employee-retiree related costs, and the White House has agreed to them.

The good news is that you still have a job (unless there is a RIF notice in your office email), and, uh, you still have a job.

Also, you didn't go over the fiscal cliff at year's end, and your agency spending authority (authorized by a continuing resolution) has been extended through Sept. 30. Had Congress not acted yesterday, there would have been a government shutdown beginning March 27 that would make the sequestration-driven furloughs look like a vacation.

Part of the problem is that Congress hasn't been doing its job. And this is nothing new. According to one reporter's research, Congress has approved all government budgets on time only five times in the last 31 years. Four of those were in the last years of the Clinton administration. Once it was after a government shutdown.

So what's next?

Given the not-so-entertaining carnival nature of government operations it is hard to predict the future. But...

Sequestration won't really kick in, and be felt, for another few weeks. What it will mean (despite the dire predictions and threats) is still anybody's guess. In some agencies, you may be furloughed one day a week or once every two weeks. Some say they will simply shutdown for a day or two (not a very good PR move). Others will find ways to transfer funds even as their sister agency says it is illegal and impossible. Some agencies (like the Agriculture Department) will get permission to continue doing important things — like inspecting meat and poultry.

It might be an interesting exercise for feds to write down what they are thinking now and what they think is going to happen next. And how they are going to handle it. Then set it aside for six months or a year. Then reread it and compare it to what really happened.

Or pass it on to us right now. We'll put it in a special time capsule and open it in the fall. Should be interesting, maybe even fun, reading.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Mustard gets its yellow color not from the mustard seed — which is dull gray — but from turmeric, a natural dye used for centuries.

(Source: Today I Found Out)


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