A Federal Employee’s Perspective on Furloughs


Today I wanted to write something a little different. It may be fall and the time of the year for all things warm and cozy, but it’s also the time for the government to decide what they’re going to do with the budget. You’ve heard the news reports with threats of furloughs and a government shutdown. I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a different perspective than the media’s. I’m not here to take sides or make political statements. I’m simply here to let you know what it’s like to work for a government on the verge of a shutdown.

I have worked for the federal government for over four years. It is the hardest job I have ever had. Since I was hired, my agency has been on a hiring freeze and has been encouraging employees to take early retirement. We lose thousands of employees every year and don’t replace them. When I started, I was doing the work for one and a half people. Now I’m doing the work for two and a half. 

Beyond the mental requirements necessary to keep up with this kind of workload, this job is emotionally draining. We are the face of the federal government. If you don’t like a law or what is going on with the political environment, we’re the ones who hear about it. People scream, cry, panic, emotionally breakdown and threaten us because we do our jobs: to uphold and implement the laws passed by Congress. I have always worked in customer service, but this is different. We are the nation’s punching bag. We’re used to it, but it’s exhausting.

In those four years I have worked for the government, we have been associated with everything that is wrong with our nation. Yes, there are many ways that agencies can be more efficient and accountable. However, there are many of us who are working hard to fix those problems. Instead of being thanked for this hard work, we’re constantly associated with the Washington waste. We’re seen as lazy, stupid and as ineffective as any representative in DC.

Every six months to a year, we are threatened with a government shutdown. We don’t know when or why or how. We’ve just gotten used to hearing that once again our jobs are on the line. Every time the government threatens to shutdown, people become very edgy and emotions run high. Even when there isn’t a shutdown the amount of damage control we have to do is immense. We still have the emergency meetings, messages from the Commissioner, and the genuine fear of our future being in a stranger’s hands. At the end of the day, we don’t know if this is the year it will finally happen. Someone will follow through with all of the threats and shut us down. We just wait and hope we can pay our bills on time. 

Regardless if there is a government shutdown tomorrow, I will be reporting to work. This means that even though my paycheck may be late I will get paid for the work I do. The government decided who within an agency is necessary and what workloads we can complete. In some ways, this is great because I can get a little bit more caught up on my work. However, most of my workloads I can’t touch until the furlough is over. People can come into their local office and call, but if they want something not on the list of pre-approved workloads we have to send them away. That public I described above will be a major problem because we will have to tell a lot of people no.

When the furlough is over, we will spend weeks getting caught up on those forbidden workloads. Agencies who were already behind will take even longer to get caught up. The public will come flooding in and tempers will be flared. The emotional exhaustion I spoke of will be nothing compared to what we will have to endure. We will feel the direct impact of a government shutdown longer than the few days it takes for a decision to be made. To the average person, a shutdown means they can’t go to a park or museum they didn’t plan on going to anyway. To us, it means we might not get paid. We’ll have even more work. We’ll have even more stress. We’ll get even more behind.

Why do we endure all of it? Because we are public servants. We made an oath to serve our country the day we were hired. Yes, we are exhausted beyond words can express but we will keep working and trying. The obnoxious moments are cast aside when we get a chance to really help someone. We make a difference in our country. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.