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The US is shutting down… Or is it?

October 7, 2013

The US Congress has failed to agree budgets for the Federal Government, and as a result hundreds of thousands of staff have been sent home on ‘furlough’.

What does this mean in practice? On TV we see images of National Parks being shut, and stories of people having to cancel their holidays/marathons/visits to museums etc. Even the Smithsonian National Zoo Internet ‘panda cam’ has been turned off…

Panda cam



The Department of Defense put 400,000 of its 800,000 civilian staff members.  Emergency workers and those directly supporting military operations were exempted. So did this mean that 50% of its people were inessential? What were they doing in jobs that were not needed? Perhaps government has grown too ‘big’ and wasteful…

However, it soon dawned on Congress that the definition of ‘essential’ was incredibly tight and in some cases seemed illogical.

For example, teachers of military children at the DODEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) were exempt from furlough, and continued to work, but many of the staff members running their payroll are not, and their salary payments are now uncertain.

A last minute bill called the ‘Pay Our Military Act’ was passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate within 48 hours of being tabled, and immediately signed off by the President just before the shutdown.  Its wording, which was obviously rather rushed, is now being considered by the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the hope that many of the 400,000 DOD civilians will return to work.

Dave Chesebrough, the President of the Association for Enterprise Information says:

“The absence of some DoD workers, such as inspectors from Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), may soon force manufacturing operations at many contractors to cease. Should this shutdown extend beyond a week the impacts will likely escalate.”

Project work (the core subject of this blog) has of course suffered  – Lockheed-Martin and United Technologies have already put 5,000 staff on leave.

The ramifications of the shut-down are now dawning on Congress. It is not just currently serving military who may be directly affected, but also veterans who receive disability, survivor and education benefits.  Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced a bill aimed at preventing the Veterans Affairs Department from running out of money.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programme provides nutrition assistance to low income mothers and children, and many military families receive such assistance and are being advised to check with their local office for updates. Unsurprisingly, a special bill is being considered to exempt WIC from shutdown.

The list of non-essential Federal Government services that are now being deemed essential is growing by the day as the impact of the shut-down on the military is becoming evident.

For a country that defines itself by its support of its military, this is a lesson on the “interconnectedness of all things”…


From → Agile Governance

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