So working for the federal government has a lot of good points. Great pay, great coworkers, respect, looks good on your resume, and usually pretty stable working conditions. Unless of course the politicians can’t stop arguing about the budget long enough to prevent a government shut down.
Now I am no economist and I have not studied this budget issue in depth. But I want to talk about the impending government shut down from the perspective of a federal employee, a mother, and a citizen of the United States.
First of all, the National Park Service (under the Department of the Interior) is currently employing about 24,000 people. 21,000 of those employees with be put on furlough (leave without pay), for an indefinite amount of time, if the government shuts down. Within the Department of the Interior there are about 73,000 employees and about 59,000 of those will be put on furlough. The only employees kept working would be those need to protect life and property (e.g. law enforcement, firefighters, animal caretakers) and those whose pay checks are paid through non-lapsing funding sources. This is just one section of the government. This shut down will be government wide and affect all departments (well except our politicians of course).
Now those numbers only include people employed directly by the federal government. Not many people have thought about other connecting occupations and businesses that will be affected. For example Eastern National is a company that runs the gift shops for many of the National Park Service sites. If the government is shut down, the National Parks will all be closed indefinitely, which means that Eastern National employees will also be without work for who knows how long. Then we have all the other concessionaires within the national parks, such as the restaurants, hotels, stables and other businesses that are allowed to run on contracts. Those will also have to close and all their employees will be without work until the budget crisis is fixed. We also have to think about the local communities near the national park sites who depend on the parks to draw in tourists. These communities and the businesses within them will also suffer losses.
And we are only talking about what will happen because of the National Parks having to close. When we consider all the other parts of the government which will be closed or cut down to bare minimum staff, the impact is gigantic.
Now some people don’t want to have pity for government employees. Just because they see us as being as bad as the politicians. The massive majority of us are hard working people just like anyone in a civilian job. We worry about paying our bills. We call out sick to take care of our kids with the flu. We shop around to find the best deal on groceries and try to keep our bank accounts out of the red. Yes, we have better pay available to us, but that pay is not easy to get.
Seasonal park employees have a hard time of it too. We don’t qualify for health insurance because we are seasonal (even if we work year round at two different parks). Most of us are low grade levels and it is difficult to move up a grade due to a high number of qualified applicants. For example I know am eligible for jobs 2 pay grades above mine, but there is so much competition that I cannot get those jobs. Plus a seasonal job is never guaranteed the next year. With each new budget cut more of our jobs get cut and the competition for the remaining jobs gets even tougher.
I have a month left of work. However if the government shuts down I could lose anywhere from a few days worth of pay to the entire last month of my pay. There is no recourse. It’s just one of the things we as government employees have to accept. All we can do is suck it up, tighten our belts and hope that our politicians figure out something soon so we can get back to earning money for our families.
Now some folks are getting a little upset with government employees (such as park rangers) about the possible shut down. I’ve heard many people tell me that they “own the federal lands and therefore can’t be kept from using them” when I have informed them that if a shut down happens ALL federal lands will be closed. This means no hiking, biking, driving etc in park property (with the exception of driving on common throughways).
We are not doing this to be mean, or to cause you inconvenience. I am sorry that this shut down may happen during your vacation to our park. But you must understand that we are doing this to protect you and to protect the park.
Let’s say that we did not shut down the federal lands and we allowed visitors to go hiking when we had bare bone staff on hand. If you got injured we would not have the staff on hand to respond in a timely manner. We have quite a few injuries in our park and some of the carry outs require not only ALL our available staff at the time but also require calling in volunteers from the local community. It can easily take 10-15 people to do a carry out of an injured hiker depending on the area they were injured, the injury, and how far it is to a roadway. We have had days where we had 2-3 carry outs happening in different locations at the same time. Bottom line; the closures of the park property is for your protection and for the protection of the resource.
I can’t help but blame both political parties for this. They have become such polar opposites, constantly bickering, that they cannot get anything done. They cannot compromise on anything to the extent that they need to.
I also must question how many citizens really realize what a government shut down will do. How badly it will affect our country.
It’s time to speak up. First the sequester and now this. This isn’t the first time a government shut down has been threatened recently and at this rate it will not be the last. Something needs to be done and our politicians are not able to do it without a good kick in the toush from their voters.
Speak up America!