Photo by Rachel Larue
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Johnson works at her desk on the Fort Lesley J. McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Oct. 2. Some civilian workers are furloughed due to the federal government shutdown.
For the second time in three months, a large group of federal government employees have been confronted with a work stoppage.
As of 12:01 a.m. Oct. 1, the lack of a congressional appropriation or continuing resolution has resulted in a government shutdown. Less than 12 hours following the official start of the closures which shuttered commissaries, national parks and museums, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall employees were required to be on base to learn of their status, and many began the process of closing down work spaces and setting out-of-office replies on email and phone systems.
At nine o'clock Tuesday, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. Fern O. Sumpter addressed a mostly-civilian crowd at the Fort Myer Fitness Center. The commander explained what civilian employees could expect during the first morning of the shutdown.
"Just like you, I am surprised, disappointed, irritated and angry that we've come to this point again. Because as you all know, this could have been avoided," Sumpter said during her 12-minute talk to JBM-HH staff. "The bottom line is the furlough is happening, and unfortunately, even with my power as a commander, there is nothing I can do about it. As of about noon today, everyone who is being furloughed should have their furlough letters issued by their supervisors. Because there are so many of you, I am still in the process of signing those letters."
"I completely sympathize with everything you are going through, so just know when you receive your furlough letters with my signature on the bottom, that is my signature, and I have thought about each and every one of you as I signed those letters," the colonel said.
Sumpter promised the audience as soon as an appropriations bill is passed and the shutdown is concluded, all furloughed JBM-HH employees will be contacted with the order to return to work.
Throughout the National Capital Region and the Military District of Washington, statements were issued addressing the shutdown, which gave words of encouragement to those furloughed. From the Pentagon to the White House, DoD employees were told to keep their collective heads up.
"I want you to know that I will keep working to get Congress to reopen the government, restart vital services that the American people depend on and allow public servants who have been sent home to return to work," President Barack Obama said in an open letter to government employees. "At my direction, your agencies should have reached out to you by now about what a shutdown means for you and your families."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's memo to DoD staffers mentioned that his employees have already endured a nerve-wracking, furlough-filled summer, and he applauded them for their resiliency.
"DoD personnel and families have been through a lot recently," Hagel's memo began. "Sequestration has meant that most of our civilian employees have already had to endure furloughs this year, causing significant stress and hardship, while servicemembers and military families have had to deal with the needless strain of reduced readiness as well as temporary reductions in services essential to their well being."
At Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, the furloughs were not sitting well with employees. The angst of the employee anger was centered at Capitol Hill lawmakers.
"I think this is ridiculous. What is most ridiculous is – at least what I feel– is that the political battles have been fought on the backs of government employees for going on three years now, and it's unfair," said an employee who works at the JBM-HH education center. "I'm hoping it will be just a few days. If it goes for two weeks, it's going to be devastating for folks like me who rely on their paychecks. This is the wrong way to do business."
The same employee pointed out that Soldiers – even though a bill was passed to pay servicemembers late last month– will not have access to some benefits, services and resources during the shutdown.
"They're [the government is] shutting down services for Soldiers," he said. "Soldiers will be working, but they won't have access to the benefits that are offered through the education center. That includes tuition assistance and guidance on the utilization of their GI Bill. It's going to be tough going."
A veteran, who now works for JBM-HH's Department of Public Works, sounded off after the fitness center meeting about his not being able to work and the hardships he has faced this past summer.
"I had to pawn my car to keep a roof over my head during the last furloughs," he said in an exasperated tone. "Congress has put thousands of people in bad shape. This isn't the country I grew up loving."
While JBM-HH workers displayed frustration, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey apologized to civilians who have temporarily lost their jobs and optimistically anticipated their return to their desks and work places.
"For those of our civilian teammates who will be furloughed, I'm sorry," the general posted on his Facebook page. "You are valued members of our profession, and we look forward to your return to duty. Thank you all. I'm honored to serve with you."
Nearly 800,000 federal workers have been sent home due to the shutdown.
Sumpter concluded the meeting with a short question-and-answer session and provided the audience with some advice as the shutdown hits and dents home budgets. She suggested picking up a pen and stationary or electronically writing a letter to those who occupy Capitol Hill.
"Send your congressional representatives a nice letter," the colonel said.