Defense Workers Take Furloughs in Stride

Stefan Schurr/

Let it never be said that Defense Department employees have no sense of humor. Starting Monday, some 680,000 of the department's civilian employees each began taking one unpaid day off per week through September. And to cope with what amounts to a 20 percent pay cut over 11 weeks, some have taken to joking about their situation.

One forum for the humor has been an unofficial Facebook page created by Beth Flores and Christel Fonzo-Eberhard, both of whom are directors in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Just over one month ago, the pair launched the page both to serve as a forum for the affected to share their stories, but also to promote Monday night's "Federal Furlough Five-Mile Fun Run" from the Pentagon to the Capitol—with a special surprise at the 80 percent mark. The page now has more than 160 members and about 80 have signed up for the run.

"We can't come to work, we can't accomplish the mission [of the department], that's really tough," Flores says. "It's just harder to do great work."

Defense jobs aren't the kind people take for the money, she says. The employees work hard and are passionate about their service, so morale had been flagging in anticipation of the furloughs, which were set in motion when Congress failed to prevent across-the-board spending cuts under sequestration. The two started wondering over lunch not too long ago whether there was anything they could do about it.

"We were talking about how the furlough period's going to start and how do we try to keep morale from dipping," Fonzo-Eberhard says. And then it struck them, she says: "What if we did a run?"

So the two set up the page in early June and started promoting the run, which now has more than 80 participants signed up.

"This is really an antidote," Flores says. The light-hearted, sometimes sarcastic, tone of the comments—and the fake running bibs—reflect the page's purpose as a place to share stories and vent frustrations. Several of the runners, for example, posted fake bibs with serious and sarcastic explanations of what the furlough is keeping them from:

And in one thread several commenters posted fake out-of-office replies they might have set up for their days off:

"Today's my furlough day. I am supposed to do 20% less work. You'll find out on Monday whether your email is part of the other 80%."

"Furloughed! In case of emergency please contact the Senate Appropriations Committee at 202-224-7363 and request supplemental funding. I will return your call as soon as possible."

Monday night's run may not be the last such event, Fonzo-Eberhard says. She and Flores are thinking it over, but they may set up a scavenger hunt or golf game next month.

For now, though, they have their own furlough days to plan. Flores's first is on Friday, but Fonzo-Eberhard's is Monday. After preparing for the run, a trip to the pool may be in order, she says, adding that it's hard preparing for a forced day off.

But, she jokes, "I'm sure I'll get good at it."

(Image via Stefan Schurr/

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