Furlough Journal: It’s starting to get serious

An update from my little corner of the partial government shutdown: it continues, but I’m just back.  This past week I’ve been on a vacation that was planned and approved well before the PGS began, but I haven’t missed a thing because late last week my employer, a company with a contract to provide certain services to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, told us it was fine for everyone to use accrued vacation time through October 11, and that if the shutdown continued we’d receive further instructions.  So while some of my colleagues who perform (apparently) essential tasks have been doing their regular work, and other folks have been getting paid for doing other tasks, albeit not from our government offices or using government equipment, I’ve been in a holiday frame of mind and oblivious to the impact of the inaction of our Congress to do its job.  Yesterday evening I checked back in and found those promised “further instructions.”  The tone has changed.

You see, on top of the 800,000 civil servants who were furloughed and aren’t being paid since the shutdown started October 1, part of the real fallout of non-essential elements of the government being shut down is that those government agencies don’t make their scheduled payments to their contractors, who as a result may not have funds available to keep paying their employees.

In our case, as a result of not receiving expected payments from the government our company advises us that as of now we cannot use our accrued vacation hours to keep getting paid; we can, however, take leave without pay.  (Oh goody.)  For those on our contract who are furloughed, the bosses advised them that they will stop accruing vacation as of the start of the new pay period next week and offered them instructions on how to apply for unemployment insurance payments.  Those of us who are (currently) not furloughed will continue to accrue vacation (that we can’t use yet) .  Health insurance benefits remain in effect for all.

But we’re not alone.  This morning Houston’s Leading Information Source offered this front-page localization of the government shutdown story: a prediction that the number of NASA contractors in Houston who are on furlough could triple by the end of next week if Congress doesn’t end the shutdown.  In this case at least—there may be other similar cases—the blame does not rest entirely on the members of Congress who failed to do the job we elected them to do; the bureaucratic mentality that runs our government is responsible for at least part of the pain:

Some of the pain could be eased if NASA paid contractors millions of dollars it owes them for completed work, Mitchell said. Just before payments were to be made to contractors, he said, Elizabeth Robinson, NASA chief financial officer, furloughed workers in the office where checks are written.

“There is no reason NASA can’t pay these small contractors the money due to them,” Mitchell said. “It’s in the bank, it’s due to them, and she’s not paying them because she considers people who pay bills for NASA non-essential.”

Some contractors are owed for as much as two months of work, he said.

Neither Robinson nor a NASA representative could be reached because of the shutdown.

Of course.

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