Before transitioning to fulltime voiceover and audiobook narration at the beginning of last year, I worked an entire other career with the federal government.
As a federal employee for over 3 decades, I was used to hearing about the bickering and being subjected to the whims of Congress. The federal government runs on an October-September fiscal year. Every summer, we would wonder when the Agency budget would be passed so that we could make our budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Even simple things like supply orders to get more printer paper could not be submitted without funding.
Government shutdowns were threatened many times over the course of my long career. The news people say a 3-week shutdown occurred in the ’90s, but my friends and I don’t remember being out of work for 3 weeks. We only remember being furloughed for a few days, so we think our Agency appropriations bill was finalized ahead of others.
If you’ll pardon a tangent, let me just say that everyone I knew worked extremely hard and undertook their tasks with seriousness and great efficiency. Those who say that government employees are lazy and inefficient have never worked there! Most of the government employees have college or even advanced degrees and are doing highly specialized work.
Furthermore, the American public does not understand that the term non-essential employee does NOT mean that the employee does not have an important, necessary, and valuable job to do. (As the Washington Post reported last week, the term has cut deep into the morale of the federal workforce, which has been repeatedly trampled on by Congress: over 3 years of frozen pay, limited hiring ability, and numerous furlough days this year due to the Sequester.) It is really an old term used to indicate exceptions in the event of a furlough due to financial reasons or those who must report during an emergency. I saw a comment from a manager at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who is furloughed during the shutdown. He noted that your views of how essential his job is might depend on your proximity to a nuclear facility.
Anyway, while we eventually did get paid for the period we were unable to work during a shutdown, we had no guarantee of payment. We were always fearful that we wouldn’t be paid. We also wouldn’t know when we would be called back to work. It’s not like you would go on a vacation when a shutdown loomed. By the way, almost ONE MILLION people across the country are furloughed this week. The longer the shutdown lasts, the bigger the hit to the US economy from all those workers who are not getting paid and therefore not spending money.
In addition, even the threat of a shut down meant a tremendous loss of productivity, which is a complete waste of tax dollars. You can’t go about your day as normal if you think you have to shutter the operations for an undetermined period of time. I was in IT, and we had to take extra measures (which used more tax dollars) to do things like run back-up tapes early and ship them off-site before the regularly scheduled day. The fact that Congress invariably would pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) at 11:59pm on the deadline day would make you all too aware of your position as a pawn in their game.
To continue with our civics lesson, both branches of Congress have to enact a budget. However, they have not done so in recent years, instead passing successive CRs to keep the government operational.
Congress could pass a CR this time just like it has many, MANY times in the past, but certain factions in the House are insisting that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be defunded before agreeing to pass the CR. The ACA is a law, not a negotiation point in the budget process. If they want to change or repeal the law, they should follow established procedures like they have tried to do over 40 other times for this one law. The Supreme Court has even declared this law to be constitutional, yet some people are as obsessed over this one law as my dog is over chasing chipmunks.
Even before I left the government, I endured numerous rounds of these politically-created crises, though none seemed quite as contentious and divisive as this one. I didn’t voice my opinions to my Congress people for a few reasons:
1) I didn’t think I could make a difference.
2) I didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize my job.
3) Just thinking about Congress not doing THE MAIN THING it is supposed to do gives me a headache.
Since I am now a freelance voice talent, one of these reasons is no longer valid. I still may get headaches and not be able to make a difference, but I’ve decided I will be silent no longer!
As I was adding my comments to the Facebook page for Saxby Chambliss, one of my US Senators from Georgia, I found this letter from The American Taxpayer in a previous response and recorded it for the Going Public Project.
No matter how you voted or what you think about the current issue, we can all find common ground over the fact that taxpayers pay the salaries of those in Congress. Perhaps it’s time we taxpayers start looking for people who can work together to get the job done. If you agree, please share this message and recording with your networks.
I have always focused this blog on the topics of voiceover, audiobooks, and marketing. I promise to get back to those topics in my next article and truly appreciate your indulgence in reading my only political post in over 7 years of writing this blog.
“United we stand, divided we fall”