Obligatory Post on the GOP Government Shutdown
I work for the government, and have for seven of my 10 years in the full-time world of work. I don’t always enjoy the day-to-day tasks, but I love the fact that I’m in public service. Sure, some days there is a inexplicably intricate bureaucracy I have to jump through to do something like accurately complete a time sheet, and there are rules that sometimes mean we have to take the lowest bid as opposed to the best for the job, but the reality is that we get to do work with the public, not the profiteers, in mind.
Now, I’m not of the mind that we should go full-scale socialist and eliminate the private sector. I think it’d be pretty challenging for me to argue that the government should be in charge of creating, say, video games. But for the things the government already has a hand in? I think it mostly makes sense, which is one reason why I’ve been so frustrated during this government shutdown when I see pundits or even journalists talking about how so little of what the government does is truly essential. The argument is, if we could furlough 800,000 employees, is what they do *really* that important?
Yes. Good grief, yes. Federal funding and federal employees are essential to so much of the work in this country. And from my perspective, that isn’t an issue of the government being too involved in our lives; it’s an example of all the amazing ways the government does things that no one else can do as well, for myriad reasons. It isn’t just about the people you see, like the disease investigators at the CDC. It’s about all the people who make it possible for those epidemiologists to do their work
For CDC staff to function, we need folks to help with training. We need equipment – HAZMAT suits, microscopes, lab equipment. The government doesn’t make those things, but we do buy them. We keep the private sector churning those things out. And someone needs to enter into contracts with them. Someone needs to make sure that those private sector companies don’t screw over the taxpayers. And the people doing that? Also government employees.
My own position is funded by federal grants, although I have not been furloughed. I spend my days writing plans that I hope we’ll never need to use, and, during winter storms and disease outbreaks, I work even longer hours to respond to issues in the health care sector. You may not know that my job exists, but if you ever lose a loved on in a mass fatality, or live through the next earthquake here, you’ll be glad it does. And while not everyone I work with writes the plans, everyone has a role to play, and those roles are essential to getting the work done.
My point with all of this is that all of these government workers are all essential.* When you eat that burger, you’re already taking a big risk, because inspectors are woefully underfunded and understaffed. Furlough some of those inspectors, or the people who track the data from across the country showing people are getting sick, and you’re putting yourself at even greater risk.
For the purposes of the government shutdown, those who are considered essential are basically doing work that can’t go more than a day without happening. These are often positions that are staffed around the clock, or at least have a duty officer (someone to take calls) 24/7. Think health, medical, safety. People who perform tasks that can mean life or death. The other employees, classified as “non-essential”, aren’t superfluous; that classification simply means that a day might be able to pass without them coming to work. Think building permits. You need one eventually to keep horrible, unsafe, cheap buildings going up all over town, but in the middle of a snowstorm it might be okay for that service to wait for a day or two before you devote resources to starting that office back up. This type of demarcation is really useful when you are facing limited resources or personnel, especially after a disaster. If some areas can wait, you can redirect their personnel to other places for the first few days before more people can return to work.
So, as the GOP continues to hold the government workers, those who receive any sort of government service (i.e. everyone), and our economy hostage because they hate the idea of poor people accessing health care, keep in mind that those government workers that pundits are just fine with furloughing are performing real work that has a real, positive impact on your daily life, even if you can’t see them.
*for the most part; I’m sure like any other sector there are some incompetent employees; that’s not unique to government work.