Did You Survive 1995 Shutdown? Tell Your Story

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This topic contains 27 replies, has 18 voices, and was last updated by  Warigia Bowman 9 years, 3 months ago.

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  • #124486

    Stephen Peteritas

    In 1995 I was 10 years old… I knew we had a president, I knew my parents didn’t like him and I knew that congress existed but that’s about it. Needless to say that a shutdown is all new to me… not that I’m excited for it.

    But when looking at the scope of federal employees and the age ranges it actually seems that more govies than not probably experienced the 1995 shutdown in some way shape or form.I know that just because you work for the government now doesn’t mean that you did back in ’95 but still I’m sure you have a better feel than I do.

    I’d like to tip my hat to experience here and let you guys go to town. Tell us what happened in the ’95 shutdown. Tell us what you think could be the same and different this go around.

    Looking forward to your responses.

  • #124540

    Warigia Bowman

    Hi Stephen

    I did survive the 1995 shutdown, but it had a fairly harsh effect on me. I was a young woman, in my early twenties. I was idealistic, and excited to work for the progressive Clinton Administration. I reported to my job at the environment division of the United States Department of Justice, and shortly thereafter got furloughed.

    I remember clearly that it had something to do with Kay Baily Hutchison not liking the Endangered Species Act. For years afterwards we were defending cases having to do with actions the Department of Interior had failed to take due to the budget shortfall.I felt that the decisions of public interest groups to sue Interior on so called deadline cases was cynical at best. Although I am an ardent environmentalist, I refuse to give money to the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and Earthjustice to this day.

    In addition, the shutdown coincided with a pretty nasty snowstorm, if I remember correctly, So there I was young, idealistic, not much money, had barely moved to DC. To add insult to injury, the Smithsonian, Jewel of DC, was closed also. I left DC after three years, much disillusioned.

    I now teach public policy, including nonprofit management, and my experiences certainly affect what I convey.

  • #124538

    Phil Sammon

    I was a Ward Clerk Supervisor at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis during the ’95 shutdown. A lot of folks I knew in the daily clinics were sent home but anyone who worked on the wards with inpatients, or in critical environmental services areas had to show up every day and night for work. We knew that eventually we would get paid. We also knew that the veterans we saw every day in the beds, the ICUs and coming and going to and from surgeries needed us to be there. So no one slacked off. A lot of us were veterans ourselves and we could easily see ourselves in a bed one day. It is called civil ‘service’ for a reason.

    And if our congressmen/women understood that, and had to work for no pay, they would re-think their tactics and focus better on the real objective.

  • #124536

    Samichie K. Thomas

    I was in government during the 1995 shut down and I actually worked for an agency that was able to continue operating, based on the the way they were funded. There was not effect on me. I was able to get to work for a few days without traffic.

  • #124534


    I got a 3 week vacation at taxpayers expense and wasn’t really happy about it 😐

    I feel the same way now.

  • #124532

    Hope OKeeffe

    December 1995. My agency was targeted for major cuts, and 89 coworkers, roughly half the staff, were laid off just before the shutdown. Staying at home, waiting for the phone to ring was not remotely a vacation, but more like a deathbed watch. The shutdown ended — and the snow hit. We finally went back to work, and half the conversations in the halls were along the lines of “I never expected to see you still here.”

    This time around, I don’t expect to be paid in the end, but I do know that my agency and my job will still be here when it’s over. But, I’ll survive whatever comes.

  • #124530

    Stephen Peteritas

    Woah yeah… I can see that n ot being much fun

  • #124528

    David K. Shepherd

    Hi Stephen,

    I was a federal employee during the last shutdown. My agency reduced staffing to “Emergency Essential” employees only. I was sent home along with 95% of the workforce. I was able to continue to work on my projects at home, but in ’95 remote connectivity was lacking. I had project work that needed to be done, so I just continued to work. There was worry that we wouldn’t get paid, etc, but that didn’t happen.

    After the shutdown was over, everyone got paid, regardless of whether they worked or not. The Emergency Essential folks all felt burned because they had ‘kept the lights on’ while everybody else got some nice time off.

    In the end, it was a political stunt that left a huge productivity crater and saved no money.

    I expect we will repeat this shortly…

  • #124526

    Stephen Peteritas

    I like hearing stories of govies cranking away regardless of hardship… if we get shutdown this time I hope there’s a lot more stories like yours Phil!

  • #124524

    Stephen Peteritas

    Haha maybe the best answer so far short sweet and I agree.

  • #124522

    Caryn Wesner-Early

    Was it the Patent Office? It gets its money from fees, so we’re all wondering if it’ll stay open.

  • #124520

    Allen Sheaprd

    95’s shutdown was full of uncertainty. How long? Which offices? Would people get back pay? Would people accrue vacation time? Would people find out “the feds work fine with 1/5 staff – lets keep it that way”.

    As a Database Administrator for DITY (do it yourself move) , HHG (House Hold Goods) and GTR (gov travel) I had stay. The lack of traffic, the empty parking lot – they even closed the cafateria! I never thought I’d miss the food. It was erie. Then they started turning lights off. No one there! Just a handful of us.

    It did not dawn on me till later that we would get paid. I was a contractor. If the company got any wind of my not being there – boom! They would find other work for me. There would be one more empty parking space on base.

    Take care. Keep in touch and keep busy. Do not let the news hype get to you.

  • #124518

    Gregory Butera

    Back in 1995 I had been working for a government agency for about 2 years. I’d echo comments from Marilyn and David. It was disruptive and stressful as no one knew when we’d be able to resume work, nor if we’d get paid during the furlough. So, not only was there the work stoppage, but during the weeks prior to the shutdown, it was on everyone’s mind and no doubt sapped productivity much longer than the three weeks that it was closed.

  • #124516

    Carol Davison

    I get paid to produce results for my customer. Whether I have to work or not over the furough shouldn’t impact my attitude, particulalry if I were caring for the ill. It seems kind of stupid to furlough us in an attempt to save money, and then pay for for not coming to work.

  • #124514

    Stephen Peteritas

    Great stories guys… keep em coming!

  • #124512

    Dale S. Brown

    Can I tell you a story about cranking away despite hardship?

    This happened my first year in government, when I was 24 years old. I don’t recommend my response, but…I was interviewing a business owner in Caifornia. He said, “I am in my office at 7 at night. That’s because I have a start-up mentality…you wouldn’t expect that from a government employee.”

    I said, “Well, I’m a government employee on the East Coast. It’s 10 PM here.”

  • #124510

    Stephen Peteritas


  • #124508

    Ed Albetski

    My wife and I both worked for the Bureau of Economic Analysis at Commerce. We had two small children and a mortgage. Kathy was an economist and I was in IT, so all our work was done on computers. During the shutdown the servers were turned off to protect the data. So there was no possibility of working from home. I agree with the other comments; great loss of productivity. Although we were uncertain of being paid during the shutdown, we eventually were. I hope the young folks new to Federal work and living paycheck to paycheck are paid for their lost time now as well. Life isn’t fair, but over the years I’ve grown a unrelenting contempt for smug posturing politicians who directly cause chaos and then blame Federal workers for the mess. I think it was Eric Blair (George Orwell) who said of the British army “They are lions led by jackasses.” Very similar.

  • #124506

    Dale S. Brown

    I was a project manager for the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. I was working hard and suddenly, we were told we had to go home. All of us tried to close out our projects. I was warned by one of my superiors, “Don’t do any work at home. It’s illegal.” Luckily, I was coordinating a committee that involved non-governmental people. So, as fast as I could, I called people and arranged for the necessary delays, communication procedures, and authority delegation.

    Well….here are some things that happened;

    *My Mom told me that the people at Chincoteque where she lived were furious the refuge, a national park was closed. She said that they were the ones who complained about “getting the government off their back.” But Chincoteque depended on the tourism- and they somehow didn’t realize that the park rangers were government employees.

    *A friend of mine couldn’t believe the Smithsonian was closed.

    In short, a lot of people realized the importance of government.

    So far as my personal situation was concerned, it was rough. I did work on a personal project that might not have gotten done if the government remained open. But we didn’t know whether we would be paid. And each day, we had to listen to the news to find out if we could go to work.

    When we returned, it was very weird. It wasn’t like leaving for vacation where you have everything organized. My committees had basically decided to wait it out. We had to review our work and then get back to it.

    Eventually we were paid, but that was the least of the problems. I wasn’t demoralized, but many people interpreted the event as one of many signals that civil servants were disrespected.

  • #124504


    David –

    Best answer so far!

    I worked for a designated “essential” organization, and all of my Federal Agency friends were off those weeks and still got paid. HUGE waste of time, money and productivity in order to play partisan politics.

  • #124502

    Allen Sheaprd


    The business around parks will be hit – during a bad economy.

    I just heard the feds gave themselves two more weeks to talk. They passed a bill keeping everything open for two weeks.

  • #124500

    Warigia Bowman

    @Hope “Staying at home, waiting for the phone to ring was not remotely a vacation, but more like a deathbed watch.”

    I totally agree, it was one of the most discouraging parts of my life, and the snow hit. By the way, for me the period after that was a period of very intense work. I forgot what a weekend looked like for the following two years as we tried to catch up to the damage done from the shutdown. WMB

  • #124498

    Warigia Bowman

    @Stephen, I agree that the fact internet connectivity was lacking made a big difference. I remember at the time that sending emails was a really big deal.


  • #124496

    David K. Shepherd

    Thanks 🙂

  • #124494

    T.G. O’Neill

    Previous to this shutdown, there had been, especially in the 1980’s, several-one day shutdowns on Oct 1st as congress couldn’t get its act together all the time. So that November when we had the first week off, we kind of thought it would be like all the previous shorter episodes. When we came back to work after that week, the politics wasn’t sounding good, the employees at my agency started worrying. Management had a State Unemployment benefits expert come by and explain how to file for unemployment. But the State person kept saying how she couldn’t believe the situation would get that far, and told us not to rush off and file for unemployment benefits right away because certainly it would waste everyone’s time (I can imagine this State employee imagining several thousand fed employees filing unemployment at once).

    Then in December, the second shutdown happened, just in time for the holidays. What a miserable, dark, cold, Christmas season that was. We had no idea if we would be paid or not, so I was afraid to spend any money. I and most of my coworkers filed for unemployment. Then, when we went back to work in January, that is the week the unemployment checks started showing up. I sent mine back. Some people had already cashed theirs, and had to pay the money back to the State.

    I expect not to get paid this time. As soon as they send us home, I’m filing for unemployment. It’s online now, much easier than last time.

  • #124492


    Been there done that the last shut down I was at the FAA tour budget was passed & we were working but in the previous shut downs when I was GSA we were sent home one day but then received calls that night to return the next day – GSA was not that lucky in 95 & they were home for a week or two. Everyone was paid which is a real waste of money & this from the people who talk pay for performance. I don’t trust nor believe politicans they are not part of the real world. I know it is hard to balance a budget but most people who work for a living & even those who don’t should understand 1) there ar no free lunches, 2) you can’t spend what you don’t have unles you want to suffer the consequences. WHY CANN’T THE JERKS IN CONGRESS UNDERSTAND THAT?????

  • #124490

    Lizette Molina

    I was employed by the federal government in the DC area during the ’95/’96 shut downs – I think the total # days was about a month, unless my memory is failing me. Some things about that period really stand out in my mind and I don’t think I will ever forget:

    1. It happened during a time when federal employees were getting bashed left and right by both the general public and the administration. The term non-essential was thrown around to equate to the notion that federal employees in general were lazy and no more than a burden on tax payers. People who weren’t feds who talked about this, seemed inclined to believe that federal employees deserved this.

    2. I supervised 8 front-line personnel who received members of the public, listened to their concerns, and took action based on those concerns. There were legal deadlines by which time members of the public had to get their paperwork signed with my agency; and legal deadlines by which time my agency was supposed to take action and send out notifications. But because we were all out, the mail accumulated unstamped and unreceived. Legal staff who were already heavily burdened with work, had to spend extra time preparing policies to ensure that the furloughs would not affect those deadlines, extending deadlines. When we returned to work, our already overworked front-line staff put in a lot of extra effort catching up. Because OT was not allowed for my staff and they would have been eligible for OT pay if they worked extra time, I worked 15/16 hours a day for a long time catching up to make sure people did not lose their right to file – uncompensated and unthanked – all the while listening to people on the outside bitch about how federal workers weren’t needed and listening to people in the administration who wrote books and policies lending credence to those accusations.

    3. I didn’t make a whole lot of money despite my supervisory position; and my staff certainly didn’t. We all took a hard hit. Most of us had to call mortgage lenders and other creditors to beg for extra time to pay our bills. In my case, a bill actually went to a Collection Agency, after agreeing they would grant me extra time to pay off the bill – and after I’d already paid it. It took more than 2 years to clean up my credit after this mistake.

    4. It took such a toll on me that I couldn’t eat or sleep and eventually got very sick. I was off for so long that I tried my hand at being a housewife and discovered very quickly that I sucked at being a housewife. I hadn’t been unemployed for that length of time since I was a child.

  • #124488


    Good one!

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