Posted by: SWL | October 2, 2013

60% of Fed Workers Deemed Essential-Including Those Related to Obamacare

Unless you are a non-essential (non-exempt in government-speak) federal worker or on a vacation that includes national parks and monuments, you probably have not felt any effect from the partial government shutdown.

Far more employees are deemed essential this time than in the last shutdown 17 years ago. Sixty percent of federal workers are on the job, including
> the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
> air traffic controllers
> members of the military
> employees involved in national security
> postal employees (The Postal Service is not funded by the government)
> the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
> passport offices
> 10% of IRS employees that deal with collecting revenue and with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)
> Congress and their staffs

Exempt employees are supposed to include only those related to public health and safety, and minimal administrative functions. A friend at the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office told me that the district manager will be in the office (someone has to receive the call to return to work and pass the information on to rank and file employees) and a skeleton crew of wildland firefighters.

I do not like the idea that Congress gets paid while my friends at the BLM do not. But how else would legislation be passed to end this impasse? What really makes me upset is that IRS, federal exchange and other employees dealing with the roll-out of Obamacare are working – and getting a paycheck. Purchasing health insurance is not an urgent health matter like food inspections (FDA). It does not involve safety or national security as do TSA, air traffic control and the military. I heard President Obama say that his signature achievement could move forward because it is already funded. That is not true at the moment. The taxes, fees and fines included in Obamacare legislation do not take effect until next year, so the revenue is not in the Treasury yet

Aside from the unfairness concerning which federal employees are furloughed, there are a couple of reasons that you do not need to feel too sorry for them – yet. My BLM contact and co-workers were about halfway through a pay period. They were assured that someone is on the job to process their time sheets, and about two weeks from now they will receive a paycheck for the time worked through September 30. Most are banking on Congress following the precedent of retroactive pay set in previous shutdowns. Even if that does not happen, and the shutdown is longer than a week, furloughed employees can get unemployment compensation. (In Nevada the waiting period is a week, but it varies by state). While not a full paycheck, unemployment can put food on the table.

The interesting thing is that, while unemployment payments are administered by the states, the money is provided by the federal government. So in a prolonged shutdown, federal money would still be paying federal employees! Don’t you just love the way our government is organized?

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