Home Alone -- again, please!

Friday - 7/18/2014, 2:00am EDT

Last October, Washington-based politicians (people who, by the way, you voted for and sent here) shut down the federal government. Or at least major portions — the nonemergency — parts of it.

The idea, presumably, was to teach your bureaucrats and us taxpayer dummies a lesson. It did, but maybe not what they hoped.

Roughly 600,000 nonpostal federal workers were locked out of their jobs. Told to stay home — without pay — until further notice. Thrown, like the storybook rabbit, into the briar patch.

Self-designated "essential" politicians and staffers who inspired/allowed/welcomed the shutdown continued to get paid. The theory, one supposes, is that only the people who caused the mess could fix it!

For many feds living paycheck-to-paycheck, the shutdown was more than a dramatic event. It was a financial hardship, if not a disaster. For others, not so much!

Depending on their status, for some government workers the shutdown was a surprise vacation. Veterans of previous whizzing contests between Congress and the White House predicted — correctly as it turns out — that they would be reimbursed for the time when they didn't work.

As often happens, Congress (right or wrong) seems to have lost the public relations battle. Polls show that most voters (and most of the media) blamed Congress in general, the House side in particular, for the shutdown and the problems it caused.

So what did the shutdown, after all the dust has settled, produce? Who won? Who benefited? Did the nation's "nonemergency" bureaucrats get it? Did the shutdown teach them a lesson?

Apparently they got it, all right.

Hospitals in major federal cities report the birthrate is up slightly this year over this time last year. In the Washington area, at least, lots of federal families now have one more member, one more tax deduction, if you will, than they did last year.

Politicians who hoped to sock it to the bureaucracy via a shutdown may need to bone up on the law-of-unintended consequences. Instead of reducing the size and cost of government, and withholding pay from feds for being feds, the numbers are up. Plus a lot of people got a surprise, paid vacation last fall while politicians were scrambling for photo ops and guest slots on home-town TV shows.

Whatever Congress hoped to do to the bureaucracy, it turns out that off-duty members of the bureaucracy did it to themselves (and others) with their time off. Earlier this week, we asked veterans of the shutdown how they coped. Some responses:

  • "... I was one of the folks out here who was considered 'critical,' so I wasn't shutdown. While I appreciated being able to keep working, this all struck me as pretty amazing, since for several years before last fall, I never got any sense that I was important or critical!" — Mike at Ft. Knox.

  • "... Since yours is a public media outlet I presume that you can't publish what my husband and I did AT HOME ALONE during the shutdown. I can say that it was the greatest vacation we ever had ... please Congress, do it again." — Cynthia, Northern Virginia.

  • "... I spent a lot of time with my dog. He got extra walks, extra trips to the dog park and lots of extra attention. He was very depressed when the shutdown was over." — Lily

  • Linda said once it became clear shutdown workers would be paid, he enjoyed his time at home. "Walked every day, got enough sleep ... hated going back to work."
The track record shows that after almost every government-wide shutdown, politicians avoid them until memories fade or they leave office. Prior to last year, the biggest shutdown (Gingrich vs. Clinton) was in the late 1990s. Most of the new crop of fed-bashers didn't come to Washington until after the shutdown, so they didn't see its downside.

Some feds who turned the last shutdown into a fun-filled vacation may be hoping Congress will teach them another lesson. And do it again. And again.

Jack Moore, long-time (three-year) editor of this column and a mainstay at Federal News Radio, is leaving today for greener pastures. He's been both a workhorse and innovator. His "Nearly Useless Factoids" are a treat. Maybe best of all, he's laughed at all my jokes without developing the glassy- eyed, thousand-yard stare some of my less sensitive colleagues wear all the time. Best of luck Jack. It's been great!


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

The smell of freshly cut grass could actually be the smell of the plant sending out distress signals. Some plants release "volatile" organic compounds when they're injured or otherwise traumatized.

(Source: Mental Floss)


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