There’s a conservative theory bouncing around (as it usually does during government shutdowns) that furloughed “nonessential” federal employees won’t be missed, and that in fact Americans who don’t miss them will suddenly experience enlightenment and vote to shrink government forever.
But instead of endorsing this theory by shrugging at the unperformed jobs of “nonessential” workers, the Trump administration is now recalling 46,000 of them, who will go from the frying pan of not being allowed to work to the fire of being forced to work without pay.
Some will be assigned to tasks that will head off dangerous criticism of the administration, like aircraft and food safety inspections. Others are apparently being rushed to the assistance of favored industries like mortgage lenders and oil companies, as Bloomberg reports:
The Interior Department is now clearing the way for previously furloughed workers to help sell drilling rights in U.S. coastal waters, as 11 personnel are being temporarily recalled to prepare documents necessary for auctions of Gulf of Mexico expected in March and August …
Some 40 personnel also are available amid the shutdown on an on-call basis to help process permits authorizing seismic tests to search for oil in the Atlantic Ocean and develop a new five-year plan for selling drilling rights in U.S. coastal waters from mid-2019 through mid-2024.
Yeah, sounds pretty essential if you are a fan of fossil fuels. But the bulk (an estimated 36,000) of recalled workers are at the IRS, basically so that the tax refunds Trump promised can go out more or less on schedule. That promise aside, the bigger picture is that Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue want to make sure taxpayers realize the benefits of the one major accomplishment of the 115th Congress, the 2017 tax-cut bill. If IRS employees have to engage in what is essentially involuntary servitude to make that happen, so be it.
Unfortunately for them, their union was rebuffed in court this week as a federal judge refused to deem the unpaid work a violation of both federal statutes and the constitution. The judge basically cried havoc and suggested the relief could make a shutdown mess even more of a mess. The more this drags on, though, and the more the administration turns furlough plans into Swiss cheese at the behest of lobbyists and Republican pols, the less the judiciary will perpetually tolerate the attendant injustices and deliberate skirting of the law.