There's been no shortage of negativity surrounding the government shutdown and near debt default – and for good reason. The federal family and the American people were badly hurt again for partisan political purposes.
This shameful development should have never occurred in America, which prides itself on being the world’s role model for democratic governance -- not the role model of government dysfunction and disarray.
In short, the shutdown hurt the fragile economic recovery, hurt real American families (including furloughed feds), and hurt U.S. leadership and financial credibility world-wide. Then there were the hidden costs to federal workers (see Shutdown Ramifications, Part I and Part II).
As President Obama recently said (video):
Yet despite the avalanche of negative news, the end of the shutdown resulted in a few small but significant gains for feds.
As the saying goes, "Behind every cloud there's a silver lining."
Following are five post-shutdown silver linings for the federal workforce:
1) Pay Raise. The much maligned multi-year pay freeze may finally melt.
Hard working, loyal and productive civil servants deserve at least a 1% pay raise in fiscal year 2014. This was part of the short-term deal struck to end the shutdown. The pay hike was also proposed by President Obama in his FY 2014 budget request.
While 1% may not sound like a lot, it’s certainly better than nothing. Additionally, any pay raise contains symbolic meaning because it shows that feds are valued and appreciated for their selfless public service.
Hopefully this small pay increase will lead to more pay stability for feds down the road.
2) Back Pay. In addition to a proposed pay hike, furloughed feds also received retroactive pay for the full length of the shutdown. However, this was never a certainty, especially with a House leadership that many objective observers perceive as harboring an anti-government agenda (per the 3-year pay freeze, furloughs and the arbitrary budget knife known as sequestration -- which was a major setback for all federal agencies).
3) Favorable View? Despite the so-called conventional wisdom, some polls show that more than 60% of Americans still have a favorable view of federal workers. This is telling compared to the dismal public approval ratings of Congress and the sky high level of discontent for government generally.
This positive public perception of feds is welcome news. It should help increase low employee morale to an extent. What a refreshing sign that -- despite numerous Washington political debacles -- the American people still recognize, value and appreciate federal employees.
4) Federal Employment. While it's true the shutdown hurt recruitment and retention to a degree, working for Uncle Sam is still appealing according to some polls.
However, this may have more to do with an unemployment rate hovering above 7%, in addition to the millions of part-time employees seeking full-time jobs. Nonetheless, as the Washington Post reports:
Moreover, despite partisan political assertions of "Big Government" run amok, federal employment is currently nearing a 50-year low according to the New York Times.
The truth is that government is shrinking, not growing out of control as fed-bashers continue to erroneously claim.
5) Budget Talks. Even though a deal ending the shutdown is only short-term, it's still a welcome sign that leaders of both parties in Congress are sitting down at the negotiating table. In this regard, even small progress is promising compared to nothing.
Although it's unlikely, the possibility remains that a long-term budget deal may be reached soon. This would obviously be a very positive development. But the clock is ticking until the next shutdown and debt ceiling deadlines in just a few months.
Therefore, perhaps Congress will finally come to its senses. Our lawmakers need to realize that federal agencies are running out of options to compensate for the devastating across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, as the New York Times reports.
The sequester continues to be bad news for the federal government and taxpayers alike -- especially for millions of low-income and indigent Americans who rely on a host of beneficial federal services.
Any new budget deal may help get Congress back on track toward approving agency appropriations on a timely basis -- that is, before the beginning of each new fiscal year.
If nothing else, it appears that terminating the counter productive sequester is in reach, which alone would be a huge win for feds. The Washington Post reports that budget negotiators say they will "concentrate on replacing sharp spending cuts known as the sequester."
Obviously, a long-term budget deal that ends sequestration, averts another shutdown, and resolves the debt ceiling crisis is in the best interest of the nation. Unfortunately, not all members of Congress are looking out for America's best interests.
That why it's imperative for Congress to get a grip on reality before the next fiscal volcano erupts.
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* All views and opinion are those of the author only.