Government Shutdown Thoughts

Posted by on October 18, 2013 in librarianship, life in klaskyville | Comments Off on Government Shutdown Thoughts

Now that it’s over, I finally get around to writing about the government shutdown…  But that’s appropriate, because my thoughts mostly concern the effect that the shutdown has on employees and their managers, on an ongoing basis.

The vast majority of the time I worked in libraries, I worked as a manager (of resources, but for purposes of this discussion, I managed people.)  Managing library staff in a law firm is a tricky business.  It’s a constant struggle to prove the value of staff members to attorneys who are used to measuring value in terms of academic recognition (do you have a JD, and if so from where?) and/or in terms of billable hours (how much money are you making for me *now*?)  My greatest challenges as a manager were keeping a diverse staff happy, letting them know that their contributions were valued, and that they made our department the superior service-providing section that it was.

I can’t imagine how I could have accomplished that if I managed library staff for the federal government during the shutdown.  Think about it.  You tell the vast majority of your staff that they’re not essential, that literally nothing vital depends on their presence.  You tell a handful of employees that they *are* essential, that their work is so important that they should do it without guaranteed pay.  And you tell another group of employees that you don’t care whether they’re essential or not, because they get paid from another pot of money, so they’re not affected by the shutdown.

Then, just as everyone gets over the grumbling and settles down to not doing their job, or doing their job, tell everyone that everyone will eventually get paid.  So now, the essential people are working for guaranteed pay, but they’re not getting that money until some future point in time.  And the non-essential people are watching money flow out and negotiating with the people to whom they owe money, saying that it’ll all work out down the road.  And the employees who are being paid from the other pot of money are now working on a daily basis — when the vast majority of their peers are on a future-paid vacation.

Just for giggles, toss in a three-year salary freeze.  And constant vituperative attacks from many of our country leaders that say that government workers are overpaid, lazy asses.

There are lots of reasons for people to work for the federal government.  In many jobs, the pay is good.  (In most high-level jobs, though, the pay is a fraction of what people could earn in the private sector.)  The benefits are generally good.  Some jobs enable workers to make a true difference in the fate of other citizens, and in the strength of our country as a whole.

But I cannot imagine trying to motivate a work force with the sort of splintering, debasing rhetoric and action that has taken place the last 2.5 weeks.

Full disclosure:  I’m married to one of the employees paid from another pot of money — so we had no immediate fiscal impact from the shutdown (beyond the general lack of federal services all Americans received.)