I began to sense the frustration this week when it comes to government furloughs.
A furlough, as many folks in the military know, is a leave of absence. Thanks to Congress, however, there are tens of thousands of government workers at Fort Hood and elsewhere only working four days a week, making for a new definition of the word furlough: A forced day off.
At Fort Hood alone, about 6,000 Department of the Army civilians had to start working just four days per week beginning July 8. That will continue through Sept. 30, and it’s unknown how it will be resolved beyond that. With Congress in charge, it’s likely the resolution won’t be a good one.
Here in the newsroom, we work closely with the public affairs folks and other civilian contractors who work on the post. In just the past week, it’s affected my job because I can’t get a hold of the right people because they are on their furlough day. It’s frustrating.
That said, I’m sure it’s nowhere near the frustration of getting paid for only four days of work instead of five. That’s a 20 percent dock in pay. I know my family would be hurting if my paycheck were cut that much. It would be nice if all the bills furloughed workers have to pay were to go down 20 percent, but that’s not going to happen.
The forced time off is part of the $85 billion in sequestration cuts that are forcing the Army to reduce its budget by 20 percent through the end of the fiscal year.
Most directorates at Fort Hood are splitting the furlough days between Mondays and Fridays, so fewer workers will be gone at any one time.
That makes sense, but when Friday comes and you really need to talk to a specific person, you’re dead in the water if that person is on furlough. Trying to get a hold of the right person can happen often in the news business, where unexpected events and daily deadlines govern our everyday lives.
Last week, I was working on a story about safety awareness when it comes to lubricating oils and chemicals used commonly on Army vehicles, but furloughs got in the way of speaking with the right person.
The furloughs also create staff shortages at Fort Hood offices, likely making every workday feel more rushed, which can lead to mistakes. All told, I think everyone who deals with Fort Hood in some way, either as a soldier, civilian, friend or guest, will eventually get a taste of the furlough medicine.
And this is almost laughable, but I heard that if a government worker works on his or her furloughed day off, it’s actually a criminal offense. Absurd.
Again, thanks a lot, Congress.
Hopefully, the federal government will come to its senses and prescribe a better solution to the deficit problem and end the furloughs in the fall. That’s probably a long shot, but I’ll cross my fingers and toes.
Until then, I think everyone needs to practice patience when it comes to dealing with the furloughs. Perhaps arrive a little early for appointments, and get to know the new schedules of furloughed workers if you work with them closely.
Patience won’t end the furloughs, but it might make the furlough pill a little easier to swallow.