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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Have Feds Been Off the Job 25 Percent of the Time This Fiscal Year?

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Charles Dharapak/AP file photo

Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times presented an interesting statistic yesterday: Since the beginning of fiscal 2014, federal agencies in Washington “have been closed in whole or in part for 27 of the 105 weekdays.”

In other words, the government in Washington has been open less than 75 percent of available days.

That’s a fairly incendiary factoid (“FEDS IN DC CLOSED 25% OF TIME!” screamed the Drudge Report in a tweet about the story). So it’s worth putting it in some perspective. Remember:

  • During the shutdown, large parts of government, including, eventually, the entire Defense Department, remained open. The hundreds of thousands of employees across the country who were “excepted” from furloughs continued to work.
  • It’s not as though federal employees wanted to be off the job during the shutdown.  In fact, they organized rallies where they begged to return to work. Congress kept employees home -- and, Dinan notes, the House and Senate have yet to put in a full Monday-Friday work week this year.
  • The federal government does not entirely shut down during snowstorms. Federal offices close, which is different. First of all, emergency employees are still required to report to work. Second, as Dinan points out, employees who have telework arrangements in place are generally required to keep working even under adverse weather conditions. (Some argue that’s a disincentive to formal telework.) And other employees doubtless work from home on an ad hoc basis during storms to get essential work done. For many federal workers, a snow day just isn’t a snow day any more.
  • Even when federal agencies in Washington close their doors for weather-related reasons, that doesn’t mean government as a whole shuts down. The majority of federal workers are employed outside the Washington area, and unless they’re being battered by storms themselves (and often even when they are), these employees are on the job.
  • The figure on days agencies were closed includes federal holidays, and many workers in the private sector (especially in Washington, where businesses tend to follow the standards set by the government), get them off, too.

It’s clear that a chaotic political situation last year and cruel weather conditions this year have conspired to make it difficult for federal agencies to get their work done in fiscal 2014.  But that doesn’t mean that federal employees have just been at home with their feet up.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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