20 Furloughed Government Employees Share Their Thoughts on the Shutdown

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Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

For most Americans, the shutdown is yet another embarrassing political circus. But for the 800,000 or so federal employees who were placed indefinite furlough this week, it's a lot more personal. And as the stalemate drags on, we wanted to hear what was on their minds. So we gave twenty furloughed federal employees 100 words to say, well, whatever they wanted. Some of them shared their insights on the serious repercussions happening behind the scenes. Others confessed their fears about not being able to get by financially. All of them, from the left and right, expressed frustration with being caught in the middle of Congress's latest power struggle. 

Archie Cubarrubia, Education Research Analyst, Department of Education:

I’m an immigrant. Growing up, I wanted to be nothing else but American, do nothing else but pursue public service. At my naturalization ceremony, I promised to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” I love our democracy. But what’s happening isn’t democracy. It’s anarchy perpetuated by people in pursuit of ideological extremism at the expense of America’s citizens. This isn’t how America is supposed to work. I remember what I felt when I took that oath. At this moment, all I feel is disappointment.

Ted Lehr, software developer in the "intelligence community":

My question is: Why am I furloughed? My contract is fully funded - the money sitting there waiting to be used. So why am I at home, not earning a paycheck. As a single income family of 5, my paycheck is pretty important. The answer: it is important for Reid and Obama to create panic over the shutdown. Massive numbers of furloughed employees, closing of parks that are never manned anyway, and a media at the ready to stir up a panic to save an already broken health care system.

Norm Williams, Financial Management Analyst:

Being furloughed is tough but worth it if the Congress is trying to hold hostage health insurance for people that can’t afford it. When did we stop caring about people? When did how much money we make become more important than our fellow man? I’ll suffer during this shutdown but I feel that saving health care is the most important thing that we can do as a society. Taking care of the people who struggle day to day to make ends meet is more important. We need to stop thinking about ourselves and think about people who need help.

Anonymous Office Chief, Department of Homeland Security:

I am furloughed because adults are acting like children, being sore losers. When their actions hurt real Americans, not just the federal workforce, they want to fund the cool, fun things to be "popular." Grow-up, do your job! I believe; you reap what you sow, do unto others as you would have done unto you, and karma's a $itch. It will be fun watching Congress deal with what they have sown and done (ill will, unemployment, negative financial impact) to the federal workforce. We the people voted you in, we the people will vote you out.

Anonymous government auditor:

After four days, I’ve mostly felt the benefits of not having to go to work (seeing more of my kids, for one), and less so the costs of not getting paid. But I know those costs are coming. And depending how long this shutdown lasts, I may very soon not be able to pay my mortgage. Still, though easier said than done, I’d rather lose my house than see Democrats cave and Republicans walk away thinking this is a winning strategy. That would only lead to more Republican hostage-taking, and a new stage in the growth of our political cancer.

Jeff Young, commissary stocker, Fort Detrick:

The shutdown is indeed frustrating, I'm against Obamacare and for smaller government, yet I'm a government employee at Fort Detrick, Md. I'm stuck somewhere in the middle, I just wish they would compromise, even if It means pushing healthcare back. The MOST frustrating part, is trying to make the best of it and fish near the C&O Canal on the Potomac River. Only to be greeted by signs saying I can't fish, because of furlough. It's becoming a joke, I don't believe people will stand for this childish leadership from both sides for long.

Anonymous biologist, Forest Service:

On Monday morning, I was in disbelief that the government would shut down; having faith that the House would find the 17 votes necessary to pass a continuing resolution. I have read news articles, trying to understand the political realities. We are being held hostage for political gain. At this point I have no confidence in our democracy. The debt ceiling will not be dealt with in a timely manner and we will once again be held hostage. No COLA in 4 years, a home that is underwater, and four mouths to feed with no income. That is our reality.

TJ Hedin, intern, Council of Economic Advisers:

The most important thing for the Democrats to do at this point is to make sure they give House Republicans a way out of the corner they've put themselves in. For Republicans to give up the fight now, without receiving anything in return, means each day of shutdown was just a political game gone wrong. They’re threatening default now not because they prefer it to keeping Obamacare, but because after they've sacrificed so much, they can’t vote to end the shutdown now without getting something in return. Give Republicans a way to save face, and they’ll take it and run.

Anonymous Department of Defense recruiter:

I am a Technical Recruiter for NSA, one of the best places you can work and contribute to the safety of the American people daily. How am I supposed to recruitthe best and the brightest new college recruits when they see Congress fighting constantly and even completely shutting down the government because they can't negotiate and pass a budget? President Obama wants to make federal employment "attractive" again. This is not the way to do it. We are competing with the Googles and Yahoos, we need to be at least open for business.

Denise McCarthy, Senior Procurement Analyst, U.S. Army:

I believe the shutdown is the direct result of 80 tea party, mostly white, mostly male, congressional members and their failure to compromise and collaborate for the best interests of Americans. The concessions on the Affordable Care Act to this GOP faction were made prior to the bill being signed into law.  Now they insist on holding the country and the entire world economy hostage for more changes that can easily be worked via the legislative process. The GOP Bush administration invaded Iraq with no strategy for  withdrawal - so it doesn't surprise me that the House GOP is responsible for this government shutdown without thought to how it could be ended and without concern to all the possible Americans adversely affected.

James M., lawyer, Social Security Administration:

I was expectedly furloughed on Tuesday after working four hours.  I arrived home, checked my financial situation and considered the stakes:  my temporary position versus affordable healthcare for all.  I concluded that not only would I be okay, but so would millions of Americans.  This gave me great joy. See, I have insight into being uninsured with a preexisting condition. Under the old system, we had to choose health and stay poor to qualify for patient assistance programs – a broken system. The ACA gives affordable healthcare to all.  It’s not a perfect system, but it's better than the old one.

Erica Waller, Senior Cost Accountant, NASA:

The extent of my work over the past fiscal year has been so cumbersome and extreme, that I somewhat welcome the thought of a furlough. Being a civil servant can be mentally and physically exhausting, however I chose to serve my country. I fear the lack of my presence at work will start a trickling affect, that will not only impact the public sector, but the integrity of our government. Furthermore, I do not embrace the loss of hours, or my wages. We have already lost so many benefits, that our basic survival methodologies are becoming a challenge.

Anonymous Social Science Research Analyst:

I work hard as a civil servant and social worker. I care about the greater good and believe it is the job of the government to help those who are most vulnerable. I believe in the basic social work tenets - social justice, putting the client first, positive social change ... concepts lost on the congressmen who have allowed this shutdown at a time when people are still in need. We are not the bad guys - I have a family to support - and somehow I have been made out to be the enemy. I just want to keep doing my job.

Gillian Gurley, attorney adviser for an administrative judge, Labor Department:

Even a short shutdown infringes on parties' Due Process rights. Hearings and decisions will be delayed for months. Claimants will go longer without medical care and compensation for work-related disabilities. Employers (often small business owners) are left in financial limbo when cases aren't timely resolved. Personally, the shutdown is a serious blow. I'm pregnant with my first child and due to the furlough, will have to dip into savings I was keeping to support myself during the unpaid maternity leave I get under the FMLA.

"Frustrated IRS Worker":

Yes I work for the federal govt. I am furloughed. Sounds nice to be home but it isn't so nice not knowing when you will go back to work or when I will get paid or even if I can get unemployment.  I don't blame one person in general. But I feel as they didn't think this through. Besides the furloughed federal workers, what about the others around that are affected? The coffee truck that comes to the building, the cleaning guy, the vending machine owners, the people we can't help because we aren't in the office......didn't think of that, did they?

Anonymous auditor, United States Department of Agriculture:

We Feds were doing our job and were unceremoniously told to go home (with no pay) – it sucks. However, the shutdown didn’t go far enough to show the American public just how much their gov’t does for them. To show people just WHAT their gov’t does, EVERYTHING needs to be shut down, close the ports, send border patrol home,send air traffic controllers home, and send the TSA airport security home. That would show big business what GOVERNMENT makes possible. Also cut out food stamps, WIC, Medicare, Medicaid, and social security. That way EVERYONE sees what their government actually does.

Anonymous Air Reserve Technician, United States Air Force Reserve:

The shutdown has limited my ability to make ends meet. We have been on a pay freeze for years even though the cost of living has increased. I have debt collectors calling and have been unable to pay due to furlough. All the govt has done is change laws to fit their agenda. Are they still getting paid? What if I was to perform my job as they do? The govt seems to have become more like terrorists than leaders. We need to have a vote of "no confidence" and have them replaced immediately.

Michael, Program Specialist, Department of Health and Human Services:

I am living on my own and finished graduate school just 2 months ago. This shutdown has put things on hold and leaves me with a lot of uncertainty. I just hope this can be resolved quickly because it's affecting a lot of people like me who are recent graduates, don't have thousands in their savings account, and are just now developing the skills to start a life and career on their own.

Anonymous federal contractor, Department of Justice:

As a contractor affected by the current government shutdown, both congress and the President need to govern and lead. The federal government needs to wisely reduce the level of government, prepare and pass a budget and plan for years beyond their re-election. While my employer depends almost solely on federal government contracts, we cannot continue to grow the government without the ability to pay for the services and capabilities. I like my work and have made a difference for the federal government. However, I don't know if I should continue amidst the uncertainty.

Leif Nesse, contract paralegal for U.S. Attorney’s Office:

Much of the support staff for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago are being furloughed by this shutdown. This leaves an enormous burden on the Assistant U.S. Attorneys to be able to effectively prosecute cases. They are overworked and undermanned. Good news for criminals. Bad news for everyone else. This shutdown needs to end now so my colleagues and I that have been furloughed can resume our valuable service in the prosecution of fraudsters, counterfeiters, insider traders and others that choose to break our federal laws.