Sob Stories of the Shutdown, Volume One

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 2 2013 10:03 AM

Sob Stories of the Shutdown, Volume One

From time to time I've been asking for government workers and contractors to e-mail me their stories of furloughs, advisories from the bosses, and general pain. On Tuesday, in my little corner of D.C., a burger joint was advertising a free meal for furloughed workers with federal IDs, and the line stretched around the block.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

"What'll I do with my day?" asked Mark Ludwick, a HUD employee I met in the queue. "Maybe I'll go to the zoo. Oohhhhh, wait, it's closed!"

He was being sarcastic, of course, and I'm finding some of that plus some general resignation in the e-mails. From a Booz Allen contractor (not THAT one):

I went into the office this morning. It was painful. Govt workers had to come in, couldn't work, waited to sign theirfurlough papers, and then went home. Meanwhile govt workers know I'm funded. That creates some tension with some, at least ostensibly. We all know they'll be paid retroactively. So in the long run, it's a vacation for them. They are thinking it will go 1-2 weeks. Anything more will actually delay their paychecks. That's when this will really begin to l hurt.
As for me, I picked up some other billable work this afternoon, helping out with another task within Booz. I'll go back to the USMC office in the morning, doing what I can. I hate working for Booz and the entire Defense industry. I've been trying to get away for over a year now but I'm picky. I'm a veteran Naval surface warfare officer, a nuclear engineer with an MBA. I could snuggle up with DoD through retirement if I wanted to, but I'd like to work in something different. At the same time, I've got a wife and three kids and can't really afford to do what I want. Not a sob story, just stuck in a weird place. 

From a Department of Education employee:

For a short day at work, it's been a long one. I arrived at 8:45 to begin the orderly shutdown. We had a staff meeting at 10, so until then, my coworkers and I were trying to squeeze in as much as we could before putting up our out-of-office messages. We have a number of Race to the Top - District grantees that are on the brink of having their scopes of work approved (until this happens, grantees cannot draw down more than 10% of their funds) and many of them are nearing this point. The Race to the Top grants are forward funded so those funds and drawdowns aren't affected by the shutdown. Except if you're DC. I'm DC's program officer and a portion of DC's grant is on cost reimbursement status, and all of their drawdowns have to be approved by me before they can receive funds. So in my call with DC' State education office, I had to notify them that they will be unable to receive any of their funds until the shutdown is over and I am able to approve their requests. This is not considered essential business.

At 10 we met and our director went through the checklist of things we must do before we could leave. She also discussed the short list of activities that will continue during the shutdown. They are:
1) the FY 2013 Race to the Top - District competition. Applications are due at 4:30pm on October 3rd and we have been authorized to keep this deadline because the funding must be awarded by December 31;
2) any emergencies with Race to the Top program grantees; and
3) monitoring the situation with the fiscal management of PARCC, one of the college and career readiness assessments consortium.

Because of the competition, our office has five people designated as full time excepted employees and a number of us will be called in as needed throughout the week. We were instructed to complete our time sheets with the furlough days, including today, even though most of us worked at least half a day. We were told to contact the number or email address on our furlough notice if we have questions about our benefits and everyone received a contact sheet with personal cells and emails. My supervisors all urged us to follow the shutdown guidelines about staying off of phones and email. And we were told to make note of our metro card balances when we get home because it is likely that we will have to reimburse the government for the portion of transit funds used, since many of us receive auto-loaded transit benefits. We also had to cancel a long planned Race to the Top Leads meeting on Friday. Leads from all 19 States were coming onsite for one of only a few meetings we hold that's not content or technical assistance specific.

I manage most of the informational email boxes and phone lines for RTT, including the competition. The competition phone and email box was inundated with questions about contingency plans and if the deadline would be changed. We weren't able to update the voicemail message and auto-reply until the official notice was up on the website. So from 11:30-12:30, I called my grantees, recorded new voicemail messages, and set up new out-of-office and auto-replies. I then had to work out a strategy with my boss for how to send notifications via various email lists.

The last thing I did was meet with my director to find out what duties I'd be called in for and when. I was told that originally I was only scheduled to come in at 8 on Friday to conduct eligibility reviews on RTT-D applications, but since I manage so many of the communications, I was told I now need to be on call in case I'm needed. Our office is holding 5pm conference calls for everyone on the excepted list to check in about the following day's work.

And that's about it, after ensuring all the out of office messages were set up, emailing myself shutdown related emails, and printing the furlough letter and a few other info sheets and contact lists, I left. This was at about 12:30.

So far I took advantage of the free admission at the Museum of Women in the Arts and took a very long walk. But the whole situation feels incredibly unfair and frustrating. I have some savings, but I think a lot about the many people I know, and don't know, who do not.

Anyone who wants to share a story, email me at daveweigel@gmail.com.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.