Furloughed Feds Aren’t Just Worried About Smaller Paychecks

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a federal employee advocate, joined the call Friday. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a federal employee advocate, joined the call Friday. Tony Avelar/AP file photo

“When I looked at my paycheck the other day, it was a shock to see how small it was,” Doug Mehring told reporters on a conference call Friday hosted by the Federal-Postal Coalition.

Mehring, a brick mason at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis, was recalled to work Oct. 7 after four days of furlough. His most recent paycheck was only 60 percent of its usual total, though he -- and several other federal employees on the call Friday -- largely voiced concerns about the shutdown outside of that personal impact.

Lee Stone, a senior scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said conferences he has missed and experiments he has canceled while on furlough represent a vast amount of lost knowledge. Tests involving artificial gravity, g-20 centrifuges, 747 airplanes with giant telescopes attached and potential causes of a recent crash at San Francisco International Airport have all fallen victim to the shutdown.

In addition to his own lost opportunities, Stone said children have missed out on learning experiences due to canceled field trips.

Cindy Blythe, a civilian employee for the Coast Guard in Topeka, Kan., said with her office closed -- which provides pay services to active duty personnel, reservists and retirees in the Coast Guard -- the department could face difficulty in ensuring the timely delivery of pay and allowances to its excepted employees.

“Our message is loud and clear,” said Bruce Moyer, head of the Federal-Postal Coalition, an organization that includes more than 30 federal employee groups. “End the shutdown so we can get back to work for the American people.”

Mehring said that on top of the shutdown, sequestration has severely hampered civil engineers’ ability to offer repairs around the Air Force base. Since the budget cuts went into effect, his office has only conducted emergency fixes. 

“If you don’t do your routine maintenance, you know you’re going to have trouble down the road,” Mehring said.

He added that needless congressional squabbling should not further mitigate his ability to do his job, and while he does not personally support the Affordable Care Act, he rejected the Republican effort to include changes to the law in a deal to fund government.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a federal employee advocate who also joined the call, offered a glimpse into how such a deal could take shape. Speier said Democrats could back a repeal of the medical device tax, so long as it includes the reopening of government and a raise in the debt ceiling that allows the government to pay its obligations for at least one year. 

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