Feds' silver lining stalked by dark cloud

Thursday - 7/18/2013, 2:00am EDT

An old sergeant of mine, a bona fide decorated combat veteran, often gave us young whippersnapper recruits advice. Whether we liked, wanted or needed it or not. Since we were a captive audience, we listened or gave a good impression of doing same.

One of his favorite life lessons went something like this: "Whenever things got quiet, we all got nervous." We later found out he was talking about his marriage, as well as Korea.

Another not-so-happy tidbit was: "Good news is often followed by really bad news." Hey, thanks Sarge!

He must have been great at parties. He was terrible at mandatory Friday night GI tidy-up affairs. But he was also often correct.

In that spirit, we give thanks for the latest good furlough news:

The Internal Revenue Service announced that it is canceling the furlough day scheduled for next Monday. Workers have already had three days without pay, the last on July 5. The furlough day on Monday, July 22, would have been the fourth this year for nearly 90,000 IRS employees. No word yet, but everybody hopes to hear good things about the next furlough, which is still scheduled for Aug. 30th.

The impact of furloughs depends on lots of things. Some employees took them in stride, and turned the Friday or Monday enforced days off as a bonus three-day weekend. For others, the lose of even one days' pay in a two-week pay period is a disaster. Applications for no-interest loans from FEEA (the Federal Employees Education and Assistance fund) have skyrocketed. For the latest from FEEA, click here.

There is also good furlough news for employees of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC workers have been slammed with five furlough days, so far, this year between April and early July. But the second round of furloughs (three days per employees) has been scrubbed.

All of the above is good news. There is a good chance — but no guarantee — that the IRS will find a way (or Congress and the White House will do something) to cancel the final furlough day set for Aug. 30. Or not.

There is also the potential that things are going to start getting worse now that they look like they're starting to get better.

Defense — the lead agency on most federal personnel actions — formally informed Congress that it may be forced to begin layoffs in the 2014 fiscal year. And New Year's Day is October 1.

Pentagon watchers disagree over whether the RIF alert is a warning to politicians and the public or a threat — a poker chip — in the sequestration PR battle. Congress chickened out after air traffic controllers were furloughed and air traffic delayed. The same happened for food-safety inspection operations at Agriculture. And law enforcement activities at various other agencies. But a lot of people who may-be-in-the-know say that Defense isn't bluffing and unless politicians unravel Sequestration, the worst is yet to come for other agencies.

The sequestration monster was designed to be in effect for 10 years.

Think back to what's its been like, and how long it took for sequestration (which began in March) to kick in. With nine years left to go, this period could, in retrospect, turn out to be the calm before the real storm.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Wildflowers can get STDs. A common wildflower disease spread by insect pollinators (which is how flowers reproduce) is called anther smut, which leaves a dark powder on flower petals.

(Source: Smithsonian Magazine)


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