From Maine to Colorado, Shutdown Puts Federal Employees' Lives on Hold
Effects reach far beyond the Beltway.
The government shutdown that is now in its second week is affecting hundreds of thousands of federal employees around the country. While the work stoppage continues, National Journal Daily is asking some of those public servants to share stories of what they and all Americans are missing without their government at full strength.
The Air Force Academy Cadet Field House—a massive structure that houses an indoor playing field and a 2,470-seat ice-hockey rink—is usually abuzz with activity.
But that was before the shutdown, and with it, the suspension of intercollegiate sports at the glittering service academy perched in the foothills north of Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It’s completely disruptive—as you can imagine—to have 1,000 people you rely on to stay at home,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, at a press conference last Thursday on the main quad. “We take it very seriously, because we’re here building a future, building lieutenants who are competent and confident and capable to go out and lead.”
At that time, Johnson had sent home about 1,000 of the academy’s 1,500 civilian workers and suspended 60 of the institution’s 300 courses. Since then, she has reversed course and recalled nearly all of them.
One of the more comical effects—and the one that garnered the most media attention—was a lack of toilet paper in some campus dormitories. “We’re not always aware at a really high level of who has the contract for the toilet paper,” Johnson said. “But we found out pretty fast, and we fixed it, because that’s tremendously [important].”
Other adjustments include bringing in non-academy military personnel to patrol the perimeter of the facility and canceling cadets’ training flights.
Yet, it is the suspension of intercollegiate sports that has taken the biggest toll on morale. Last Saturday, the Air Force Falcons football squad played the Navy Midshipmen in Annapolis, Md.—the Falcons lost 28-10—but the game was possible only because the United Services Automobile Association paid the Falcons’ travel expenses.
“The reason … this particular game is possible, when other activities have been canceled, is that a very generous private donor has provided the funds for the travel and lodging of just the football team, just the bare bones,” Johnson said last week. “It’s only the team. I’m not going, the cheerleaders aren’t going.”
There is no word yet on whether the Falcons will host the San Diego State Aztecs this Thursday, as planned.
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Stuck in Limbo
Rosa Van Wie, 23, has $87 in cash and $2 in her bank account.
“I lived with my parents this summer and saved up enough to cover two months’ rent,” she said. “That, and my grandma gave me $100.”
She’s balancing car payments and $20,000 in student-loan payments by selling painted seashells at a market near her hometown in Maine.
“I made $15,” she said. “But, yeah, feeding myself is tricky.”
When she got a job offer to work at a preschool for autistic kids, she was ecstatic. But the next day, the government shut down.
“Right now, they don’t have enough staff,” Van Wie said. “I probably would have started this week.”
She can’t start until the federal government reopens and completes her background check. She’s been without a job since mid-August, when she wrapped up a stint at a summer camp. Van Wie says she loves her two senators from Maine but is frustrated with Congress -- especially tea-party Republicans -- for acting like “little children.”
“I never really thought they would do this,” Van Wie said.
Meanwhile, the preschool is working on a state background check, contacting places where Van Wie previously worked. She’s filling out more paperwork, and hopes she might be able to start next week.
“It’d be really nice to get a paycheck soon.”
Like thousands of government workers, Lisa Jenkins is facing some unexpected time off because of the shutdown, but she isn’t letting it go to waste. She and her husband, Scott, are restoring a historic home in Front Royal, Va., that they plan to convert into a bed-and-breakfast.
“It needed a lot of work. It was kind of a stretch for us in terms of buying and fixing it up,” said Jenkins, who works in IT for the Environmental Protection Agency. But a long shutdown could put some of that work on hold. “We’re really relying on our continued income,” she said.
Jenkins, 54, who has been at EPA for 23 years and experienced the shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, doesn’t believe the current work stoppage is necessary. “There’s just no precedent for tying the budget to anything else,” she said.
She used the time off during the ’90s to complete an adoption, but Jenkins says she’s heard from older federal employees “that they are less likely now to wholeheartedly encourage younger people to enter the federal services.”