A Ticking Clock

October 16, 2013

By Gabrielle. 

Have you been keeping an eye on the US Government’s state of affairs these past few weeks? The shutdown and near-default on our debt unless we raise the ceiling (Which just happened, by the way! Phrew!)… oh, it’s heady and dizzying and frustrating stuff, to me at least.

If you work for the government, were you told to stay home or were you deemed essential? And is it true you essential folks worked without pay?

One of the commenters in Karen Nyberg’s Space Station tour is currently furloughed from her job at NASA, along with 97% of the agency. (Hi Sarah!) It must be a ghost town! And it must be crazy hard for those in the Space Station to deal with their support staff so limited. I’ve heard awful stories about programs that have been halted, small businesses that rely on government workers patronizing their establishments suffering painful losses, and on a much less serious note, even the super cool Alcatraz Island that I had planned to show my friend, Caroline, has been closed. (Next time, Caroline!)

How have you been affected directly, whether you live in the US or elsewhere? Fingers crossed you’ve only been mildly annoyed at the ever-alarming newsreel!

P.S. — My youngest brother hosts half marathons at National Parks, and could lose a very hefty deposit if the deadline passes or any other delays pop up. It’s a new business and a loss like this could tank the whole thing. I’m worried sick for him. 

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A Ticking Clock
October 17, 2013 at 6:21 am

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cathryn October 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm

I like the sound of your youngest brother! His Yosemite race looks incredible – does he open up extra spots for fans of his sister’s blog? :)

I’m so glad the shutdown is over…that means the Warming Hut will open up again!

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2 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:09 am

My brother is a great guy and I’m so impressed with the company he is building!

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3 Dee October 16, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Yes, I work for the federal government in Oakland and we were deemed essential (except on Columbus Day, when we were furloughed) and we worked without pay the entire time. We have no idea when we will see our back pay; rumors are that it took 1.5 years to get our back pay after the last furlough 17 years ago ended. I am thankful that the shutdown appears to be over for a couple of months but may ultimately leave federal service due to instability/sequestration/complete absence of paid maternity leave.

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4 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

1.5 years to get back pay? That’s so rough for any one that’s just starting out and doesn’t have a cushion.

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5 anita October 16, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Kinda makes you wish you’d stayed in France, I bet :-) What a mess! And it’s only delayed until January, so we’ll probably have to go through this all again. I couldn’t believe the fundraising call I got today from the Republican National Committee. Could they have worse timing?
I have a brother in law and cousin both furloughed, and friends and travel plans affected. But ultimately it just shakes our faith in the system and our leaders. Hoping for better days ahead.

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6 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 2:16 pm

“Hoping for better days ahead.”

Well said!

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7 Mandy October 17, 2013 at 1:03 am

I work as a Federal employee for the Army in Germany, and I was sent home the first week of the furlough. The second week, I was recalled back to work not knowing if I would be paid. Our paychecks are always for the previous 2 weeks we worked, so I am anxious to see what days I was paid for etc. I have read so many conflicting memos at this point I really am not sure what time/days I am getting paid for. Pretty crazy for sure. My family headed to Tuscany for the week to take advantage of the time off which was wonderful.

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8 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:11 am

I’m glad you were able to make the best of it in Tuscany!

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9 Sarah October 17, 2013 at 1:03 am

As a library science student (as far away as New Zealand no less) it’s been a real pain. The Library of Congress website hasn’t been supported during the shut down – it hosts the Library of Congress subject headings, and the Library of Congress authority headings, which are standards for cataloguing used by a majority of the english speaking library world. It being down means I effectively can’t study for an upcoming cataloguing exam. A friend of mine who is a contract library cataloguer in Australia was told not to bother turning up to work until Library of Congress was back online. Amazing how far the shutdown reaches.

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10 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:12 am

I found your comment so fascinating! I had no idea the effects were so far reaching. Thanks for chiming in.

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11 Ania @ The New Diplomat's Wife October 17, 2013 at 1:12 am

the rumors are true. If you’re essential, you still have to come in – and frankly, do a lot more work in terms of hours and coverage since everything is so short staffed but no pay (which seems like it would be legally crazy but that’s just my HR consultant self talking) – typically congress will approve the back pay but they have to do that first, and then they actually have to process everything so that you actually see it. but it’s no easier for those furloughed because then you just hang in the balance w/o pay as well and with a lot of uncertainty…not the rosiest of times but people are hanging in there.

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12 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

Dee (above) mentioned that backpay can take 1.5 years to show up. I’m sure that’s debilitating for many. Glad to hear you’re hanging in there!

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13 wendy r. October 17, 2013 at 3:53 am

Like some of the others, I was designated an emergency employee the first week and third week (the second week I switched out for someone else in my office). We don’t know if we will ever get paid, our last pay checks only reflected the time worked until the shutdown started (through 30 Sep). For my husband and I since we have been around a while it’s not so bad, my worry is for the more junior folks in my office who don’t have a nest to lean back on while they wait for back pay (if ever) and who were told that the work that they do is “not essential.” Regardless of the background, the psychological impact of that is significant. Since everything was boiled down to emergency (essential) activities, it was actually pretty quiet in our office relatively speaking, but as with most great bureaucracies, our leadership filled the void with new, imagined issues to solve. So is this cycle!

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14 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:24 am

Your last line about bureaucracies made me laugh!

But on a more serious note, I hope you get full pay. And right away!

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15 erinmalia October 17, 2013 at 6:39 am

I am a federal employee who was furloughed for the entire time. Out of more than 2,000 employees in my agency, only three worked during the shutdown, so I didn’t take my “non-essential-hood” personally. But because I have a non-federally employed husband and savings, I was able to enjoy the time off. While I am happy to be at work, doing things to help the American public, I did plan on getting a pedicure today, so I am a teensy bit bummed. :)

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16 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:22 am

So wonderful for you to have a partner that can carry the family finances during the furlough. What a blessing! (And I hope you get your pedicure this weekend. : )

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17 Jessica @ Little Nesting Doll October 17, 2013 at 7:17 am

We live just outside DC and it seems like everyone here was adversely affected. Thankfully my husband, a contractor for the government, was still working, but only because his contract was already fully funded. We have so many friends and family members who were out of work probably without pay the entire time. It’s a disaster and honestly, Congress and the whole government is to blame and should have had THEIR pay suspended–it’s ridiculous that the Congressmen and women who basically cause the whole problem were getting paid while everyday gov’t employees were not. I’m sickened by the whole thing.

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18 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

Oh I’ll bet. Living near DC must really amplify the effects of the shutdown.

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19 Jen October 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

Gabrielle, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. Out of curiosity, has he been doing anything marathon-related at Lake Powell? I’m from little old Page, Arizona and I know Lake Powell was closed for a week or two and there were rumors the marathon would be shut down there, but they were able to open the park in the nick of time.

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20 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:19 am

Yes! He’s holding a race at Lake Powell this weekend.

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21 Alicia M! October 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

My husband is in the Army Reserve. While the government has continued paying full time military, my husband’s weekend drill, which pays our rent for the month, has been canceled. We are also waiting on a week of pay for an additional assignment as he could not file the paperwork for reimbursement and pay due to the shutdown. We count on this pay to pay our bills, so it has really put us in a pickle this month.

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22 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:18 am

That is a pickle! I hope the landlords of the world (I’ve been one before) are being particularly kind and compassionate this month.

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23 mamalang October 21, 2013 at 10:02 am

My husband is Active Guard, so he had to go to work, but was told not to expect to get paid. Luckily we have a great bank the agreed to provide no cost loans to those not being paid, and in the end his pay did show up. I know that when we were first married, we counted on those drill paychecks for expenses, and losing one would have destroyed us financially. I hope that they get your husbands pay processed quickly and that they reschedule those missed drill dates for you.

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24 Cammie October 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

My husband’s in the military and he was not effected. But, my sister who is on medical disability from her time in the Air Force did not receive her funding. She’s unable to hold a job and is really struggling because of the government. It’s the vet’s that I worry about most when these things happen.

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25 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 10:16 am

Oh man. I didn’t even realize the vets were affected. (I somehow assumed payments like that were just on auto-pilot and had funding behind them. Embarrassingly naive of me, of course.) I’ll be thinking of your struggling sister and all the other veterans in need.

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26 sarah October 17, 2013 at 11:06 am

we’re affected in a much less direct way: my husband is a biomedical engineering professor and researcher. he is tenure track and requires funding in order to get tenure (and also for a portion of his own pay and payment to the students in his lab). grant submissions take quite a while to get reviewed and go through the system, and–especially in today’s funding times–they’re very difficult to get.

he recently did a ton of work on an nih grant that was submitted months ago, and should be on the block for review now. that process was halted with the shutdown, and he’s getting word that it will likely still be several more months until anything is able to happen with these submissions. scientific funding is already incredibly difficult to come by, and the shutdown has slowed things down even further :(

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27 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Oh man. Again, I would never have thought about a researcher in a science field being affected. This has been so far-reaching!

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28 Caitlin October 17, 2013 at 11:33 am

VacationRaces looks AMAZING! I can’t wait to run ALL THE RACES! Seriously…I love national parks (I carry the little passport around to get stamps) and I run a marathon or a half every month!

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29 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I’m a big National Parks fan too! I loved growing up near so many.

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30 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hey, Friends. I’ve had to erase two comments and a response — all 3 were quite rant-y about a specific political party.

I was very careful when I wrote the post to remain a-political because I know political discussions are not what readers are looking for when they come to Design Mom.

I want people to be able to share their experiences with the shutdown — as I know it has had far and wide impact. But if this post got your goat, I suggest you move on to the next one. I will continue to erase any comments that try to start fights. So please don’t bother leaving them.

Thank you!

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31 Rebekah October 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I am not a government employee, so the government shut-down doesn’t affect me at all. BUT I am a small business owner, and the same thing the government employees are feeling has been happening to small businesses everywhere for the past several years because of our poor economy. I have gone 2 months without a paycheck, while paying my employees checks & health insurance for all of us.

I can’t dredge up much sympathy for government employees at this point. For me, this situation is filled with irony.

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32 Design Mom October 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Having to go without a paycheck is rough at anytime, Rebekah. I feel for you. But I think trying to compare a struggling small business with a furloughed employee doesn’t work.

Your company may be struggling, but plenty of small businesses are thriving. When the government shuts down, it’s not some employees that are affected, it’s all employees. And the companies surrounding government entities? Like hotels and restaurants at the borders of national parks? They’re directly affected too.

With a small business it’s different. Yes, the economy may be affecting the bottom line, but it could also be the nature of the product being sold, or trends in the culture. In contrast, when a furloughed government employee’s paycheck is affected, it’s 100% because of the government shutdown, it has nothing to do with a customer base.

I hope we can all find some sympathy for government employees — they are not entrepreneurs and don’t have the built in expectation of uncertainty that an entrepreneur has. (I’m an entrepreneur myself and know the uncertainty of paychecks very well.) And I hope we can have sympathy for struggling small businesses as well.

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33 Chelsea October 17, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I think I just found my next half marathon to run – your brother’s company looks AWESOME! Just what I’ve been looking for and such a great idea. Thanks!

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34 Design Mom October 18, 2013 at 12:03 am

Go for it! I hope you have a great time. I love watching the instagram streams from his events. So beautiful!

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35 Kiki October 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm

My husband is an essential federal employee, and for the last six months there’s been the constant threat of a 10% furlough or losing half the staff (due to sequestration) and then came the shutdown. It’s quite disheartening (and stressful) to have such gloom and doom when he LOVES his job. He’s seriously considering looking for other work. We’ve been married for about eight years and have somewhat of a cushion, but ours would deflate pretty quickly if we truly needed it! I guess we have another 3 months to save money until the next shutdown!

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36 Design Mom October 18, 2013 at 12:05 am

Oh man. I’m so glad he’s back to work today. Living with that kind of stress for 6 months is brutal.

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37 Beth October 17, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I am not a federal employee, but the house I am in the process of selling was bought through a USDA. Program. We have been waiting for the sale to process since July and because of the shutdown, our lawyer is worried that we may have to start from scratch. Hopefully our buyers won’t decide that the sale is taking too long!

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38 Design Mom October 18, 2013 at 12:05 am

Crossing my fingers for a speedy closing, Beth!

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39 Lena October 17, 2013 at 10:58 pm

My husband is a federal employee – a scientist with a Ph.D. from the highest ranking university in his field. He and his colleagues work very hard. They aren’t motivated primarily by money – they could make significantly more in the private sector. But they love being scientists and like to feel like they are contributing to a greater good by serving their country.
Furlough was horrible. Normally we would feel a little comfort with our nest egg, but we are in the middle of a massive renovation (we bought a home that needed a total overhaul) and we are living tighter than usual as a result.
One of the worst parts of this whole fiasco is hearing that furlough was some kind of a vacation. HA! FURLOUGH IS NOT A VACATION! There were no guarantees along the way that he would be paid. No one was handling his workload while he was gone, and he wasn’t able to plan for the shutdown properly to assure that the highest priorities would be handled in advance of his departure. And going forward, his (and our family’s) quality of life will really suffer the consequences. My husband has tight deadlines and must report to Congress on his findings. Congress won’t be changing those deadlines, despite the lost time! So although my husband and his colleagues were not legally allowed to work, they started back today in a total frenzy to make up for all that lost time (and more) by working obscene hours to catch up. Meanwhile, his international contacts and academic contacts are all put out by the lack of federal scientific work and will require some additional attention. It’s a disaster.
If we wanted a real vacation, he would have taken the time off when it was appropriate with his current workload. But instead, the time was just one of stress, and a disconcerted sense that despite all he does to make life better for everyone in our nation (and world) and securing our long term food supply, the people elected to serve us weren’t doing their jobs.
My husband has had multiple offers to work for other countries. Spain, Iceland, Australia, etc. to help secure their nations long-term food supply. But he loves his country too much to become an ex-pat ( we love to travel, but want to remain here in the states to raise our family). I think he loves his country far more than his country loves him. It’s a depressing realization. :(

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40 Design Mom October 18, 2013 at 12:06 am

Oh man. How frustrating. Having unexpected time off and not being able to enjoy it for a second. Such a bummer.

I hope the catch up is incredibly speedy!

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41 mamalang October 21, 2013 at 10:11 am

As a military wife, your last two sentences struck a chord. I have often felt the same way, and I know that the military receive far more support than your husband probably does. Thank you for supporting him in making our world a better place.

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42 Sara October 19, 2013 at 8:38 am

I hate to complain, but since you asked… :) About six months ago, my family made reservations to spend a week in a cottage near a national park. We had already paid in full and were unable to get a refund, so we went on the trip as planned, hoping for the best. Ugh. We just got back, and the park was closed the entire time we were there. We all tried to put on brave faces and “make the best of it,” but it was disappointing and really frustrating to finally be there after so much anticipation and not be able to do or see any of the things we had planned. I’m pretty bitter about it since we are on a tight budget and we spent a lot of money and traveled a long way to see that park and weren’t able to enjoy it.

Thanks for indulging my pity party. I know there were many larger-scale problems than my bad vacation story, (and even more upsetting vacation stories – my coworker saw a couple on the news who had traveled from Germany to see the Joshua Tree and were unable to!) but it felt kind of good to vent. :)

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43 nole October 19, 2013 at 11:07 pm

My husband and I live in DC, just a few short blocks away from the Capitol building. My husband is a federal employee for the Department of Defense and was furloughed for the first week, then declared essential for the second and third weeks of the shutdown. We’re told that he’ll receive back pay for the week that he was furloughed and that his paychecks moving forward should be completely normal. It was still a very demoralizing and stressful few weeks.

I think it’s worth mentioning that the situation has been pretty bad since October 2012 when the sequester went into effect. Understaffed agencies have been placed under hiring freezes and are unable to fill vacant positions. Existing employees were already being furloughed under the sequester, and there are additional furloughs expected next year. Many talented federal employees have no hope of being promoted in the next 3-5 years. Some agencies are even talking about laying off employees in the near future. Museums on the National Mall have been forced to close some of their exhibits and/or reduce their hours. One of our favorite DC spots, the National Arboretum, is now closed entirely Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And that was all way before the shutdown.

Between the sequester and the shutdown, this has been an incredibly demoralizing time for federal employees (and their families). I worked for the federal government for eight years before leaving to pursue my blog full time in 2010 (yay!), often working 12-hour days and doing work normally assigned to a much more senior officer. I loved what I did, but I ultimately left because I didn’t see a future for myself at my agency and I felt that my hard work wasn’t valued by my leadership. It’s hard to send my husband to work each morning knowing that he’s now facing the exact same situation, but with the additional stress of being used as a pawn by Congress whenever they feel like playing political brinksmanship. It’s disgraceful and a disservice to the talented people that serve their country, and it’s all just really stressful and really sad.

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44 bdaiss October 29, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I know I’m incredibly late to the party, but wanted to leave a comment. As someone working for a private company in the National Parks, my hearts go out to those employed by the government. Many are my friends and others, in some ways, my co-workers. HOWEVER. They are the “face” of this shutdown and people have gone out of their way to support them. What people don’t see are all those who rely on our parks and the government but aren’t employed by them that are affected. There are many in the tourism business who not only lost their current job, but also lost their NEXT job. So many of our seasonals live paycheck to paycheck. When the shutdown hit, we had to let them go…but to where? Their next job was also shut down and many now didn’t even have gas money to get there. We have done all we can to support them with food and housing, but our company alone lost roughly a million dollars a day due to the shut down. No one will pay our employees their lost wages, ever. There are likely hundreds of small businesses who lost the last 3 weeks of their season and may now have to shutter their doors forever. It is a sad state of affairs and I hope the American people respond in the next election.

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