What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday - 2/14/2013, 2:00am EST

If you are somewhat confused about sequestration, automatic cuts and furloughs, welcome to the club.

Having jointly created, then delayed, then rescheduled the cuts---now due to begin March 1 — the White House and most members of Congress say it shouldn't happen. That it is the ultimate March Madness. Now many of the people who designed it, knowing it would self destruct, say they can hear the ticking. The only thing Republicans and Democrats agree on is that the other side is totally to blame.

So what if it happens? What if many federal agencies furlough workers one day a week? What then?

The worst-case scenario has airplanes colliding in the sky (assuming they can take off), rotted meat finding its way to your table and bank robbers running wild while furloughed FBI agents are home watching Dr. Phil.

Just about everybody (except true government haters) believes that furloughs are not a good idea. Various groups, representing contractors, rank-and-file feds, senior executives, retirees and people who provide and need services say forcing people to stay home (and unpaid) is not the way to run any business. Even government.

But if the worst happens, and many believe the politicians will blink before the March 1 sequestration start date, how bad can it be?

Earlier this week, a 30-minute early alert of a monster tornado probably saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives, when it tore through southern Mississippi and Alabama. If we get another one like it during the furlough will the weather service be able to make a life-saving call.

Food poisonings are so rare that when they happen they make national news. Will federal inspections cease or become dangerously spotty during a furlough?

Are federal law enforcement agencies really going to have to furlough officers and vital lab personnel?

Whose going to keep order in federal prisons if the people who are paid to be locked up eight hours a day alongside prisoners are told to stay home?

Will National Parks be shut down if rangers join the endangered federal species list?

People whose duties include preparing for automatic across-the-board cuts have done and are doing their thing — when they could (probably should) be doing other things. Like the jobs they are paid to do. But few people understand what governmentwide furloughs would look like. Especially if they run for a couple of weeks or, worst case, until Sept. 30th?

While the postal service prepares for five-day mail delivery (Saturdays would be a packages-only), the rest of the U.S. Government is preparing for a four-day workweek. Having a three-day weekend probably wouldn't prompt many more feds to eat out, take trips and mini-vacations since those activities require money. Giving tens of thousands of federal workers and federal contractors a 20 percent per week pay cut for the next several months could have an interesting impact on our still struggling (but improving) economy.

So what about your agency? Your base or shipyard? Your office? What have you been told? Do you think you know what you don't know? What do you think would happen to public services if you are furloughed?

Let us know and we'll pass it on to Capitol Hill. If they stick to their grinding Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule, we should catch up with them sometime next week.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, people would routinely send "vinegar valentines," Slate reports. These were "tart, sassy, vindictive and just plain mean" missives people anonymously sent to friends, enemies and social rivals. The practice, sadly, died out in the middle of the last century.


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