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5 Post-Shutdown Silver Linings for the Federal Workforce

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):

  • There were no winners here.”

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:

  • “The 16-day government shutdown may have been demoralizing for the country’s more than 2 million federal workers, but it did little to deter the hundreds of thousands of people who scour government job listings daily and bombard agencies with résumés, all for the chance to join their ranks.”

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.

DBG

Questions

  • Do you agree with the five silver linings?
  • Are there other silver linings you would add?
  • Will silver linings help boost post-shutdown employee morale?

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* All views and opinion are those of the author only.

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5 Comments

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Profile Photo David B. Grinberg

Can sequester be replaced by closing tax loopholes? Check out this article from the Economic Policy Institute for answers:

  • “If you are searching for sensible ways to shrink the deficit, there are better alternatives to sequestration.”

  • “For example, we could eliminate the nondefense discretionary spending cuts in the sequester and shave $26 billion annually from the deficit by eliminating or closing a handful of tax loopholes.”

Profile Photo Dave Hebert

You’re doing a very thorough job on this topic, David. I would agree with those silver linings, in general.

One very nuanced sliver lining I might add (and that relates to yours) is the opportunity for federal agencies to take a hard look at their mission and programs and make sure they are being as sharp and effective as possible. We lessen (if not greatly) the chance of being chopped with a clever (sequestration) or frozen in place (shutdown) if we all do some careful trimming ourselves.

The other, much more petty, silver lining is that we didn’t come back from this like we do from vacation: With an inbox that almost serves as a punishment for being out. Most of us were on hold, and those who weren’t knew the rest of us were.

Profile Photo Dale M. Posthumus

David, you can always find deductions (one person’s deduction is another’s loophole) on paper to close. The issue is, ultimately, how do we choose. For example, we would gain $70 billion in federal revenue if we eliminate the home mortgage deduction (loophole, to many renters). Many argue the mortgage deduction increases the price of housing. Domestic production deduction is to designed to try to keep manufacturing in the US as well as draw foreign companies into investing in US production. Is that good or bad? Reduced tax rate on first $10 million of corporate income is designed to encourage small business. Is the idea wrong or is the number wrong?

I assume EPI considers these deductions/loopholes as ones that should be eliminated. I could also argue for reduction in spending on non-governmental activities, frivolous (IMHO) programs, and waste as an approach. Recently, I learned the National Zoo pays $2.5M per year to lease pandas from China, plus the costs of keeping them, plus $600,000 for each surviving panda cub. Now, I agree there is value in the panda research and exposure, but is it something the Federal Govt should pay for? After all, three other private zoos are doing the same without Federal money (I believe I have all of the information correct). I might argue that more research might be accomplished by the same amount of money if researchers were sent to China to work with Chinese experts and the pandas near their natural habitats.

Okay, way off topic. As for Federal workers, I have said this before, but look at yourselves. What can you do every day to enhance your reputation before the public, to demonstrate your value? The private sector must do this all of the time, or we eventually go out of business. BTW, there was a recent survey (unfortunately, I can’t site the source) that found public opinion about Federal employees was not bad at all. It is the politicians and the conglomerate of the “agency” they do not like.

Profile Photo David B. Grinberg

Dave, Kathryn & Dale:

Thanks for your insightful comments and constructive analysis. Your feedback is very much appreciated, as always. A few final thoughts:

  • In short, federal employees are the solution to the problem, not the problem itself.
  • Federal civil servants dedicate their lives and careers to public service due to patriotism, not political self-interest.
  • Some obstructionist members of Congress with partisan and ideological agendas would be wise to emulate the self-less sacrifices of the federal workforce on behalf of the American people.
  • Fortunately, according to national polling, most of the public is smart enough to distinguish the hard work of federal employees from the political ploys of the “do nothing” Congress.