Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think

Monday - 8/25/2014, 2:00am EDT

This time a year ago, many members of the federal workforce were licking their financial wounds and wondering if they would still have jobs in the fall.

Hundreds of thousands of workers had been furloughed earlier in the year. The reason: Sequestration, a 2013 version of the Spanish Inquisition brought to us by the White House and Congress — both of whom later disavowed it.

Many, many career civil servants, in many agencies took 20 percent pay cuts during their furloughs. FEEA, the feds-helping-feds charity, ran out of money as tens of thousands of employees applied for no-interest loans to make ends meet. Even big bucks cash infusions from FEEA corporate sponsors (Blue Cross, GEICO, LTC Partners and others) couldn't supply enough cash to meet the demands.

A couple of months after the furloughs, the lack of spending authority for many federal agencies forced a shutdown. People designated as "nonemergency" were sent home. Others were told to report for duty. It again proved a chaotic, desperate-for-some financial situation, for lots of people.

Members of Congress and key White House officials stayed on the job (and by-the-way on the payroll) to solve the problem they had more or less created. The shutdown ended with many citizens disappointed with the government, again. Visitors who had planned late vacations at national parks, and other free federal facilities, were turned away.

The 2013 shutdown was the biggest since the Bill Clinton-Newt Gingrich flap. It happened before most current members of Congress got here, so they knew not what they were doing. This time both sides, the White House and Congress, relearned some facts of life. That the public and especially the news media (right or wrong) mostly blamed Congress for the shutdown. Ironically, employees who were sent home eventually got paid. So the shutdown saved what again? Those who had applied for, and received, unemployment compensation had to (or at least were supposed to) give it back.

It was a mess. And almost entirely avoidable.

This year, 2014, has been different. Congress has spent so little time in town that even some long-time members have forgotten commuter short-cuts to Capitol Hill. They are gone again until after Labor Day, after which they will return for 12 working days (less for some) until they break for the November elections. Most of this year has been about election day. Republicans are fighting to keep the House and possibly take control of the Senate. Democrats hope to at least hold the line in the House and keep leadership of the Senate.

Potential 2016 candidates keep popping up. You can tell how serious they are by how many trips they make to Iowa (site of the first presidential popularity pagent), even if they have other jobs. Like being paid to be governor of their state, or as members of the House or Senate. You can almost judge their fear- factor (to the opposing party) by the number of indictments brought against them.

It's been a bad Public Relations year for the Internal Revenue Service which, because of its congressional mandate, rarely has a good PR year. House Republicans are hacking at its budget in part as a well to punish political appointees who may have played fast-and-loose with tax regulations.

The Patent and Trademark Office, hardly a household word among the general public, now is a household word. It got ink (and TV time) too. First for getting into the Washington Redskins football team name flap, which is like crashing a convention of angry skunks. Later, PTO was accused (Page One of The Washington Post) of allowing — or having — a large number of full-time teleworkers who did everything at home but process patents and trademarks. Since the PTO is the Poster Child for how teleworking is supposed to work in government, this could be a problem for similar programs in other agencies. Even so ...

By and large, the political and PR problems feds face this year are smaller than last year. At that time, Congress and the White House were taking aim at federal pay, pensions and other perks. Those are definitely on the back-burner, at least until 2015. So to the extent you can relax between now and the end of the year, enjoy yourself.

Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and other pending problems notwithstanding, here's an even more horrible thought.

What if these, right now, are the good old days?


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID:

By Michael O'Connell

Actor George Coe was credited with being a member of The Not Ready For Prime Time Players in only one episode of NBC's "Saturday Night Live", the first one, which was originally broadcast on Oct. 11, 1975. Coe would appear occasionally on the show over the next decade.

Source: Saturday Night Live Wikia.


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