Sunday, January 6, 2019

When They Go (Fur)lough, We Go High

I'm really proud of this post's title, a pun riffing on an awesome quote from former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama: "When they go low, we go high." (And for those not already familiar with the term, furlough rhymes with "low" or "toe" with a long "o" sound.)

Anyway, I spent the past few weeks being furloughed due to the government shutdown. I already wrote a bit previously about what happens in an Embassy when the government shuts down. Last time, though, the shutdown was much shorter, meaning the consequences are quite a bit more intensely felt this time around. If you want some background on the political debate behind the shutdown, you can read about it here.

Being furloughed means I (along with about 400,000 other federal employees) haven't been allowed to work (or get paid for those weeks) since the shutdown started on December 22, 2018. What's happened with every modern shutdown is that Congress approves back-pay for all of us who were furloughed. In other words, 400,000 employees including me will get paid, late, with taxpayer dollars, for sitting around wishing we could work. A lot of other countries find our system a little nuts in this regard, and quite a few Americans seem to agree.

For work during the shutdown, we keep a low profile and limit our operations in unfunded departments (like mine) to those that are deemed "essential": mostly pertaining to life and safety. (In other words, no #throwbackthursday Embassy Tweets for now.) Thankfully, we have strong contingencies in place for the shutdown that have allowed our essential operations to continue relatively smoothly. (We aren't experiencing anything like our poor colleagues at U.S. National Parks, for instance.)

I did learn something else about furloughs this time around, too. You can be furloughed based on your current position and then un-furloughed to fill an essential position. When my boss is out and I need to fill in for her, I go from being "non-excepted" (i.e., non-essential - no offense taken) to "excepted" (i.e., essential). Even if the government is still shut down, I'll go back to work in that unique case.

It's a little complicated, but like it or not it's all part of one of the biggest quirks of our government. And until I have to go back in, I'm taking advantage of every spare minute to catch up on reading, spend quality time with M, and get a strong start to my New Year's Resolutions.

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