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So, it appears that DH and I will not be going to work much for the rest of the week, thanks to certain political stuff going on in Washington, DC. That'll jolt one into some realistic evaluations of an emergency fund. Turns out we have much more than I ever count as "emergency funds" because on a day like this, the envelope for a new car, the envelope for legal expenses, and all the other envelopes with money set aside for a planned purchase are ALL part of the emergency fund.

ThyPeace, and the cash part of the investment account, not that there's much there at the moment having just paid for the addition on the house. Sigh.
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Hang in there and don't let Congress drag you down with them. Certainly it's all hands on deck when it comes to eFund savings but the important thing is to not panic. On a positive note, you did just pay for the addition on the house so you don't have that hanging over your head. One less thing to worry about during this turbulent time. Hopefully our politicians will come to their senses and establish order to your financial world again.

Fuskie
Who has been unemployed enough times over the years to have gotten sudden losses of income down to a science and is confident that the same discipline that helped you save up those targeted envelopes of money will see you through this financial emergency...
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So sorry, ThyPeace. I hope things are resolved soon and that when they are, backpay is approved to replace your efund.

Soooz
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SooozFool,

You wrote, So sorry, ThyPeace. I hope things are resolved soon and that when they are, backpay is approved to replace your efund.

I don't mean to express anything but sympathy toward ThyPeace ... but why would anyone other than a federal worker want this last part?

If my employer sent me home temporarily because they were having financial difficulties, I certainly wouldn't expect to be paid hours I didn't work. I'd just be thankful they were able to resume and give me my job back. Maybe that's just because I've always been a non-unionized non-government employee in at-will states. But why should there a different standard for federal employees?

And FWIW, historically no government shutdown has ever resulted in a net savings. Supposedly the '96 shutdowns cost the US $1.4B MORE than if they'd just kept everyone on the job. (That's just direct costs, BTW.)

The biggest effect I think the shutdown will have on the economy this time around is the use of E-Verify. Most major employers have switched to this system. My current job was contingent on my passing this screen. But right now the E-Verify site is down and won't be open again until this mess is resolved.

What will this do to employers? Potential new employees? How many employers have put a contingency plan into place for this? What potential new employee would? And finally what will this do to next month's job numbers? And how will that impact the economy and the stock market if a bunch of people wind up stuck between jobs? Or worse, people that were unemployed and would be employed, but their new employer won't let them start!

- Joel
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If my employer sent me home temporarily because they were having financial difficulties,

Your premise is false. The reasons for this shutdown are political, not financial.
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If my employer sent me home temporarily because they were having financial difficulties, I certainly wouldn't expect to be paid hours I didn't work. I'd just be thankful they were able to resume and give me my job back. Maybe that's just because I've always been a non-unionized non-government employee in at-will states. But why should there a different standard for federal employees?

How would you feel if during the furlough the executives of your company still continued to receive their salary but all other employees did not - would you still just be thankful they gave you your job back?
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The shutdown is political. Companies that have to lay off workers are doing it for financial reasons as a result of the shutdown. Invoices are not getting paid. Staff who normally bill to the government can't work. Companies that serve the Government are worried financially.
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SooozFool,

You wrote, Your premise is false. The reasons for this shutdown are political, not financial.

It's not my premise. But I will agree to stipulate that this is a false premise. The reasons are political.

- Joel
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MetroChick,

You wrote, How would you feel if during the furlough the executives of your company still continued to receive their salary but all other employees did not - would you still just be thankful they gave you your job back?

How I feel is irrelevant.

But assuming they continued to pay themselves, it would further encourage me to look for another job - something I would have been doing while on furlough anyway - as I would see such irresponsible actions as additional proof (upper) management was incompetent and it didn't really care if the company survived.

- Joel
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But assuming they continued to pay themselves, it would further encourage me to look for another job - something I would have been doing while on furlough anyway - as I would see such irresponsible actions as additional proof (upper) management was incompetent and it didn't really care if the company survived.

Another way to look at it is that customers -- formerly citizens, but there's not much civics going on these days -- have decided they don't want the product, yet haven't given much thought to what a society with a broken government looks like. Somehow I think the impact is different from that of a failed company.

Sooooz
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Companies that serve the Government are worried financially.

Considering the dysfunction of our government, some of those companies might want to reconsider their business model of being dependent on such a dysfunctional client.
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We have the politicians to blame once the US debt defaults on its debt. The only thing we can do as a country is not vote these scumbags backinto office again.
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<<We have the politicians to blame once the US debt defaults on its debt. The only thing we can do as a country is not vote these scumbags backinto office again.
>>



Perhaps the best way to prevent the government from continuing to run up massive and chronic debt is to just say "no" to more of it.





Obama attempted to whip up public fear about the embargoed spending at the first of the year. That continues and no one cares about it.

We are currently doing without "essential" Federal employees, and we seeme to be better off for that.


Reminds me of a Dilbert comic strip:


It's winter and snowing hard.


The curly haired boss makes an announcement that non essential employees can go home early.

In the last frame, the curly haired boss is looking through binoculars at the parking lot to see who is leaving.

He's thinking "The next round of layoffs will be the easiest EVER!"




Seattle Pioneer
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SeattlePioneer,

You wrote, Perhaps the best way to prevent the government from continuing to run up massive and chronic debt is to just say "no" to more of it.

And of course not paying credit card bills just because you don't have cash in the bank is a great way to reduce your debt ... especially when you have stellar credit. Yeah. I'm sure that will do wonders.

Also, We are currently doing without "NON-essential" Federal employees, and we seeme[sic] to be better off for that.

There. Fixed that for you.

Sorry, but the shutdown only affects agency employees and contracts that are considered non-essential. The essential ones are required to stay on the job even if they might have a long time to wait for a paycheck because payroll functions are considered non-essential...

Also we're still paying the salaries of elected officials and all political appointees.

In fact a number of federal employees are still on-the-job. And so are a lot of government contractors.

And let's not forget the military. We might not allow them to buy guns and ammunition, but they'd bloody well better fight to the last or we'll court-marshal them...

Of course that does beg the question, How many of these non-essential employees could we do without? And if we cut some fraction of them, could we actually balance the budget this way?

Or are we cutting the people that actually perform functions that bring in government revenue? For instance, all IRS auditors have been sent home and all audits have been suspended...

Yeah. Let's just not pay our bills... That's the ticket.

Seriously, when did this board ever preach that philosophy?

The only solutions to debt are the same for government as individuals:
1. Less spending,
2. More income,
3. Or both.

Not paying your bills usually creates problems that are harder to solve.

- Joel
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" DH and I will not be going to work much for the rest of the week"

Congratulations- you are getting free vacation time courtesy of the US taxpayer.

You know that in the end, the government workers will get paid in full, whether they work or not, and the US taxpayer will be the only loser in this mess.
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Congratulations- you are getting free vacation time courtesy of the US taxpayer.

You know that in the end, the government workers will get paid in full, whether they work or not, and the US taxpayer will be the only loser in this mess.


Federal workers are also taxpayers. They did not ask for any of this nonsense and are keenly aware of just how wasteful it is.

If you really think that locking out part of the workforce and telling them they'll paid, like, whenever, is just like a "vacation," then complain to your Congressman about it. Blaming the locked-out workers just lets the people who shut down the government laugh at the taxpayers all the way to the next fundraiser.
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You know that in the end, the government workers will get paid in full, whether they work or not, and the US taxpayer will be the only loser in this mess.

I am a taxpayer. And although we have an e-fund that will last the requisite six months or more, a promise to pay me later when I have bills now is not really that much of a comfort.

ThyPeace, and besides, I'd rather choose when I take my vacations.
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"I'd rather choose when I take my vacations."

The great news for the Federal workers is that they still get their normal vacation days, plus every Holiday.

So for those workers who weren't living on the ragged edge financially, this was a great vacation, and they still have their regular vacation days as well.

Pretty sweet deal!
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they still get their normal vacation days, plus every Holiday...

Pretty sweet deal!


Actually, some Federal employees will lose vacation days becaue of the furlough and the rules regarding the maximum number of days of vacation that can be held over from one year to the next. There are provisions to help some employees out, but not everyone will be able to take advantage of it. You can carry over use-or-lose leave because of the furlough -- but you can't carry it over for two years. I have at least one and probably several colleagues who are in that situation.

That said, being a Federal employee is indeed a good thing. Federal contractors, particularly those who work for themselves rather than a company, got a really raw deal. My ex, who is a contractor, had almost no income during the furlough and won't be able to recoupe any of it.

ThyPeace, picking up a couple of kid-related expenses to help with that.
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ThyPeace,

You wrote, Actually, some Federal employees will lose vacation days becaue of the furlough and the rules regarding the maximum number of days of vacation that can be held over from one year to the next. There are provisions to help some employees out, but not everyone will be able to take advantage of it. You can carry over use-or-lose leave because of the furlough -- but you can't carry it over for two years. I have at least one and probably several colleagues who are in that situation.

I don't see how that works. (i.e.: Doesn't vacation.) You're still in October - ten weeks from year-end - and there will be people that can't take enough vacation to avoid loosing some? How much vacation do you guys accumulate in a year?

The most I've ever received is 5 weeks. That employer had an industry-experience-based vacation policy; but the maximum vacation you could earn was 6 weeks / year. Most employers have given me 2 or 3 weeks. The worst have given 2 weeks of PTO only - no separate sick leave - and had a use-it-or-lose-it policy. (They did allow you to take all of your vacation in advance of accrual. Other than that their leave policy was pretty bad ... though the company had excellent insurance coverage.)

My current employer (a Fortune 500) includes 3 weeks of paid vacation and 2 weeks of paid sick leave. It is possible to earn more; but I don't think even the most senior earn more than 6 weeks of vacation. They also have a year-end, use-it-or-lose-it policy. Lots of people here just disappear around the beginning to middle of December.

Even with the worst policy I've seen, the maximum loss is only ONE YEAR's worth of vacation accumulation. There are 10 weeks remaining this year. What position in the Federal government earns more than 10 weeks of vacation time? And why would the public sympathize with them?

Finally, That said, being a Federal employee is indeed a good thing. Federal contractors, particularly those who work for themselves rather than a company, got a really raw deal. My ex, who is a contractor, had almost no income during the furlough and won't be able to recoupe any of it.

I can sympathize with your ex. I've been a (non-government) contractor. I've also been near the end of a contract and had weeks where I could only report partial days because they were running out of work for me to do. Not exactly a furlough ... but it was a good hint to update my resume and start looking again.

- Joel
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Joel,

I'm completely willing to answer your questions if they are real questions. If it's just a rant against government workers and their benefits (I truly can't tell -- tone of voice is very hard to read in any circumstances, and especially hard with the current overall political environment), I'll let you rant but won't supply additional fuel for your fire. Please let me know which one you prefer.

ThyPeace, truly not sure.
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I was hoping for an answer too. I went looking.

This might help.

http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-adm...

I can't figure out how the shutdown would make them loose their leave.

Jean
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ThyPeace,

You wrote, I'm completely willing to answer your questions if they are real questions. If it's just a rant against government workers and their benefits (I truly can't tell -- tone of voice is very hard to read in any circumstances, and especially hard with the current overall political environment), I'll let you rant but won't supply additional fuel for your fire. Please let me know which one you prefer.

There was certainly some frustration in my post about how the government feels it must reimburse its employees. But feel free to ignore that.

I really am interested in how someone could be 10 weeks from the end of the year and yet still going to lose vacation pay as the result of a use-it-or-lose-it policy. Note: I'm assuming your fiscal year matches the calendar year.

- Joel
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I really am interested in how someone could be 10 weeks from the end of the year and yet still going to lose vacation pay as the result of a use-it-or-lose-it policy.

I don't know how it plays out in government, but here's how it played out in private industry for me:

Dateline 2009. Existing policy allowed employees to carry over 20% of their PTO days to next year. Because PTO is used for sick time as well as vacation, prudent employees made it a practice to bank the maximum they could, in case they got sick late in the year. Then Stuff Happened.

1Q09 results were bad, and the employer announced a mandatory furlough of 4 days per quarter for the last three quarters of the year. That was about a 6% pay cut for salaried employees, with compensation in the form of additional time off. But the work still had to get done.

Policy changed to not allow carry forward at the end of the year. That meant someone who had banked 5 PTO days as a historical practice now had 17 additional days to use, and still had to get all his work done.

Near the end of the 3rd quarter, a major acquisition was announced. That meant that some of those salaried employees with 17 extra days had extra work to get done in connection with the acquisition. So . . . they could take their allowed time, and fail to get the job done. Or they could pretend to take their allowed time, and do a lot of work on nominal days off. Or they could lose some days.

I managed to use all my days off that year, with minimal interruption of work on my days off; but I was still *very* busy on the days I worked with acquisition prep work. I know people whose additional workload from the pre-acquisition activity made it impossible to use all the days. Some of them had planned significant time off in December from early in the year, but got to late October and knew they couldn't afford to take all the time they had planned.

My best guess about what is going on in the government now: Folks who had planned time off late in the year now have to deal with a backlog created by two weeks of inactivity preceded by a couple weeks of routine activity being sidelined by shutdown planning. There's an extra month of routine work to make up, and in government it won't be nearly as efficiently made up or ditched as it would be with most private employers. As a result, people who want to get the work done could lose some planned time off.

Patzer
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Patzer,

You wrote, I don't know how it plays out in government, but here's how it played out in private industry for me:

Dateline 2009. Existing policy allowed employees to carry over 20% of their PTO days to next year. Because PTO is used for sick time as well as vacation, prudent employees made it a practice to bank the maximum they could, in case they got sick late in the year. Then Stuff Happened.

1Q09 results were bad, and the employer announced a mandatory furlough of 4 days per quarter for the last three quarters of the year. That was about a 6% pay cut for salaried employees, with compensation in the form of additional time off. But the work still had to get done.

Policy changed to not allow carry forward at the end of the year. That meant someone who had banked 5 PTO days as a historical practice now had 17 additional days to use, and still had to get all his work done.

Near the end of the 3rd quarter, a major acquisition was announced. That meant that some of those salaried employees with 17 extra days had extra work to get done in connection with the acquisition. So . . . they could take their allowed time, and fail to get the job done. Or they could pretend to take their allowed time, and do a lot of work on nominal days off. Or they could lose some days.


Changes like this are designed to encourage attrition. And in some states a large company changing benefit policies mid-year might encourage a lawsuit. But of course the vast majority of private sector employees will just take it. If they lose vacation they felt they earned, they'll tend to go looking for another job. If they can find it they'll eventually leave. Simple as that.

Something related, but opposite happened to me. I had a vacation planned in the summer of 2004 with my son. I had to reschedule because of work, so the vacation was pushed out to the end of the summer. Then I had a hernia, surgery and was out of work for over a week. It was my second serious illness that year. I no longer had enough PTO time to cover the week of vacation, so the Friday before I left my boss told me I couldn't go. I said I needed the time off and it was too late for my son to cancel his vacation, but the CEO (small company) had already told him to make me work it because we were behind.

I cited it as one of reasons I left the next year. The CEO tried to get me to stay. She offered more money and more vacation time. I said I'd needed it the year before and I got no sympathy then even when I was willing to take it unpaid. Now I'd gone out and found something more interesting to do, so I wasn't staying just because she felt they might have made a mistake.

Finally, My best guess about what is going on in the government now: Folks who had planned time off late in the year now have to deal with a backlog created by two weeks of inactivity preceded by a couple weeks of routine activity being sidelined by shutdown planning. There's an extra month of routine work to make up, and in government it won't be nearly as efficiently made up or ditched as it would be with most private employers. As a result, people who want to get the work done could lose some planned time off.

I'd be surprised if the a federal agency managed their employees like either of our experiences. It would seem more likely that they'd authorize some overtime rather than suffer public complaints that they were stealing people's vacation leave.

- Joel
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Joel,

You asked a number of questions about the federal leave system and how the furlough could affect leave. Summarizing, the question seems to be, “How can anyone possibly be unable to use their leave when there are 10 weeks left in the year?”

I could give facts and figures, and will start with a couple to give you context. But then I’m going to tell you a story. Because I think it’s easier to get a feel for things with a story. Facts first. Jeanwa posted a good link that discusses leave accrual in general. For the story I’m going to tell, the employees have worked for the government for more than 15 years and accrue annual leave at 8 hours per pay period, or 26 days per year – essentially 5 weeks of leave.

Federal employees are allowed to carry over 240 hours of leave each year. Many Federal employees prefer to carry that full amount as a buffer for unexpected emergencies. All of those who are affected by the current situation have already built up that buffer, meaning that any leave they earn this year, they must either use all of it, or lose any they haven’t used, or have the government “restore” the leave.

Leave restoral occurs when an employee had scheduled leave, but for reasons associated with critical operations in that area, was denied the leave by his or her supervisor. Although employees have the right to take their leave, supervisors also have a responsibility to ensure that all work is covered. So leave can (and is) denied when a critical skill set is needed, when there are simply not enough people around if one more person takes the day off, or when there are emergencies.

However, restored leave cannot be held for more than the following year. After that year, it is forfeited.

Now, let’s go back to last year and start my story. The summer of 2012 was hot. Really hot. In our area, it was 105 and very high humidity for nearly a week. Then there was a Derecho that caused extensive power outages -- in the middle of that extreme heat. The fallout from the Derecho in my workplace was dramatic. I can’t go into the details without telling you where I work and what I do, which I don’t particularly want to do. But let’s call that event Big Awful Darn Day #1. BAD Day #1 for short.

In my work, a BAD Day is a day when people and animals’ lives are at risk, or where there is significant risk of major damage to government property. BAD Day #1 was, according to my most experienced colleagues, the worst day they had seen in 30 or more years of work. Unbelievably, no one (except one of our employees, who needed a good set of stitches) got hurt and there was no major property damage. I am still astonished at that, and at the flat heroism and brilliant technical maneuvering that pulled it off.

So let’s talk about my colleague. Let’s call her MC (for my colleague). She is the technical genius behind getting us through BAD Day #1. She is also the heart and soul of our organization, and lives and breathes the place. On BAD Day #1, she figured out the problem, declared the emergency, made 200+ people appear at work on a Sunday morning, and proceeded to mitigate, delay, trick, and fight our systems to a standstill instead of a runaway train while others (my boss and 30 or so other colleagues) finally figured out and resolved the major technical problem that had caused all the trouble. She’s amazing.

Our boss relies on her very heavily. They have a straightforward deal. One or the other of them will ALWAYS be within one hour of work. At all times. Every day. Because of the potential for BAD Days.

The aftermath of BAD Day #1 was both immediate and long term. A lot of our employees worked two or three straight days then (as in, 48 to 72 straight hours) – and continued to work extremely intense schedules for the remainder of the year. MC had a straightforward reaction to BAD Day #1. From that moment and until it finally got cooler in the fall, she didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time. She tried, you understand. But couldn’t. She wasn’t the only one who had a reaction like that. But this is her story, so I’ll focus on her. She didn’t dare take a day off while it was still hot. Lots of our folks didn’t.

Back to the question of leave usage. MC had taken a few days off here and there early in 2012, before BAD Day #1, but not enough to use up all her time. She scheduled several weeks of leave in November and December of 2012.

But… other things happened. Suddenly, MC’s leave is no longer viable –- and gets denied at the end of 2012. Now, the good thing is that the government will restore leave in situations like that, and all of the “use or lose” leave that she had scheduled was restored. And she started building the response team to allow her to take time off as she realized that just her and our boss were not enough people for the scope and frequency of problems we were facing.

But that wasn’t in place yet. So she came into 2013 with even more than the usual 240 hours carried over.

2013 has been somewhat less awful than 2012. Somewhat. In the spring, we had what I’ll call BAD Day #2. Here again, I can’t go into details, but a technical glitch, overlaps of work in two different places, and poor design combined into an emergency so severe that for a while the fire department had to pull its people out for a while because it was too hot for even them to work. (And no, it wasn’t a fire. At least, not exactly.) And you know, the fire department leaves after the immediate life-threatening emergency is over. Our guys don’t.

In that situation, which was only less bad than the first one in that it was much more localized, MC came in at her usual time at 5:30 Tuesday morning. BAD Day #2 started at 4pm. She was on site until Thursday morning. They declared a partial victory when they stabilized the systems at that point, created a watch, and sent everyone else home for 24 hours. Friday morning, they started again and stayed for another 24 hours, and got the situation to a place where no one was worried about an immediate failure. They kept the watch – some guys standing 12 on and 12 off, others 24 on and 24 off – for at least another week. Here, too, I am amazed and proud to work with the people who kept anyone or any animal from getting hurt, though there were significant losses in other ways.

MC? She was our incident commander for that entire week. (If you’re familiar with emergency responses, you know what that is. If not, well, it’s… the person who Makes It Happen. Whatever IT is.) In addition to everything else, she also faced the people who had losses, apologized to them (even though she had saved the day, not ruined it), comforted them, and helped them understand exactly what had happened and how our folks had kept it from getting any worse. Again, weeks of major aftermath.

We were still dealing with all the other things that go on in the regular whirl of life. It was summer again – and the technical issues that caused BAD Day #1 had not yet been addressed. So we worried. She worried. Everyone worried. No one slept well. And those prep things she did to get others in place to respond helped. The incidents, if not the BAD days, are more evenly spread out. It was a fight to get there, but that’s a story for another day.

Our boss finally decided to retire – after 40+ years of government service – and started taking a lot of time off to plan his next phase of life. Remember that deal that neither of them would ever be more than an hour away? Yeah. That. So she had again planned to take time off in the cooler part of the fall, starting in October.

And our executive decided to reorganize the entire area we work in – 800+ people, of which my boss was in charge of well over 500. (Yes, that’s screwy. That’s one of the reasons for the reorganization.)

You may know that there are currently no cash awards allowed anywhere in the government? For the heroism that literally kept our agency alive, we were able to give our folks two things. A very sincere “thank you,” and a couple of days off. (2)

So our boss retired. His retirement party was October 1. We had to change things so that the excepted personnel could come after their workdays were over – no leave means no leave, not even for your boss’s retirement party. Unsurprisingly, MC was selected to be his replacement. She’ll be great at it, and I am looking forward to working with her.

And then the furlough happened. MC is excepted personnel, along with several hundred of our colleagues. (That whole life and property thing is why we exist, after all.) She’s sitting at work, all leave cancelled, dealing with Yet Another BAD Day. This one doesn’t deserve a number, as it was not nearly as spectacular as the others. BAD days happen, in my work, about once every three months. Which is why several hundred of our colleagues were there in the first place – so that they could prevent as much as they could, and deal with the fallout for those that they can’t prevent.(1)

Now it’s the middle of October. MC has a new organization to run. Not the same one we had a year ago – the reorganization I mentioned was effective October 1, too. New positions for quite a few people, realignments, changes in responsibilities, delayering of the organization. And breaking a log jam that had prevented dealing with the technical issues that contributed to BAD Day #1. All good. But time-consuming, stressful, and on top of keeping this crazy train of a workplace going.

She flat cannot be gone right now. Not enough, anyway, to use up the time that she should be using up. And likely not even to use up the leave she will have to forfeit from the previous year. Is she partly responsible for this? Sure. Not everyone would be so dedicated to her job, and not everyone would take on the responsibilities she shoulders every day. But she is, and she does, and she’ll end up forfeiting leave for it.

Also, I realize that this may seem like an extreme example. But I will tell you that she is not the only one, not the only example. My work is full of people like her, who may not have all her talents and strengths, but absolutely have the level of dedication that she does. My colleagues love their jobs, care deeply for each other and our Agency’s mission, and are some of the most remarkable people I have ever had the honor to work with. I wish I could show each and every one of you around our workplace and show you what we do. I think you would be happy with how we spend your taxpayer dollars.

ThyPeace, wishes she could tell the full story of those days. And wishes she had the resources to start an oral history project at work.



(1)You might ask why we can’t prevent everything. I wish we could and we try hard to get there. But we can’t always do it. The best analogy I can give is to think of your house. No matter how hard you try to make it weather-proof, someday a wind may come along that’s stronger than all your preparations. Maybe that storm will tear up a few shingles. Maybe it’ll rip off the whole side of the roof. Or maybe it will lift the house from its foundations and fling it into the side of the house next door in a screaming fury. My colleagues deal with those winds – and also with the ramifications of vast increases in technology, complexity, and risk in the modern world.

(2) We cannot even buy someone who has worked for 24 straight hours a sandwich and a soda. I find that profoundly wrong. I am determined to change it. And though I have found a way to get a guy a nap before he has to go back to work, I still can’t buy him a sandwich. Incredibly frustrating.
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"We cannot even buy someone who has worked for 24 straight hours a sandwich and a soda. I find that profoundly wrong. I am determined to change it. And though I have found a way to get a guy a nap before he has to go back to work, I still can’t buy him a sandwich. Incredibly frustrating."

Correct, other than per diem earned while on approved travel orders, appropriated funds cannot be used to buy food with very limited exceptions.

"2. Food: Buying food for individual employees (who are not away from their official duty station on travel status) generally does not materially contribute to an agency’s mission performance. As a result, food is generally considered a personal expense, and appropriated funds are legally unavailable for such expenses. See Department of The Army—Claim of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, B 230382, Dec. 22, 1989 (unpub.) (determining coffee and donuts to be an unauthorized entertainment expense). It may be permissible to use appropriated funds for food, at some types of events, for some types of personnel, under the following very limited circumstances."

www.army.mil/fmwrc/docs/FISCAL%20LAW%20v02.doc
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"How much vacation do you guys accumulate in a year? The most I've ever received is 5 weeks."

Up to 3 years service, 4 hours of annual leave and 4 hours of sick leave per 2-week pay period;

Between 3 and 15 years of service, 6 hours of annual leave and 4 hours of sick leave per 2-week pay period;

15 or greater years of service, 8 hours of annual leave and 4 hours of sick leave per 2-week pay period;

Fiscal year is 1 October - 30 September; leave year is 1 January - 31 December.

http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-adm...
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ThyPeace,

I'm sorry, but I've not had time to read your (long) post completely, but I felt sort of compelled to respond anyway. My take-away from skimming it is that "MC" is a highly-motivated, career-minded individual that is probably looking to climb the management ladder.

I actually see lots of individuals in the corporate world sacrifice their vacation time as well as their health and personal life in order to advance in a company. Many put themselves into situations where they're just "too valuable" to take the time off that they're owed. But that doesn't change company policy, so they sometimes lose vacation time over it.

That doesn't mean I'm sympathetic with them. Better planning and management - not necessarily their own - would probably have made their sacrifice unnecessary. But their sacrifice could have been avoided had they made different choices and painted themselves into such a situation. In any case employers tend to reward people that do such things in other ways. (At my current job these people tend to get fat bonuses, extra stock grants and big pay raises. Someone making such a choice could stand to gain a great deal more than that lost vacation time was worth - if what they were working on was visible and truly valued by the company.) And if the person making the sacrifice doesn't feel the rewards are sufficient, they'll either stop making them or leave for another job.

Ironically I'm more sympathetic about your sandwich and soda complaint. I work in a field where employers tend to provide free snacks and drinks as a "perk". In fairness, most of the employees are well-paid and providing free sources of caffeine and Calories makes economic sense because its a cheap way to squeeze a little more productivity out of fairly expensive talent. They even tend to provide us meals when we're running behind schedule. Personally I think most employers ought to do this - even the government. Most employees appreciate it and it's a cheap way to make them feel their hard work is appreciated at some level.

Of course when perks like this are seen to be abused by a few, they tend to get reduced or removed and everyone suffers the consequences. I suspect that a few public-sector cases of such abuse have surfaced (and were publicized) over the years which have resulted in the apparently strict bans you face now.

- Joel
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Joel,

I think we are going to have to agree to disagree. As I said, MC is an example, but is not even close to unique in terms of dedication and willingness to work hard, though she certainly is in other ways.

I obviously have not communicated the situation to you at all well. I am still assuming that you are a generally compassionate guy, rather than someone who can't connect to a situation. So... I do invite you to PM me if you are ever in the mid-Atlantic region. I'll take you on a tour.

As for the sandwiches and the sodas, IF is correct that it is somewhere between not a good thing and illegal -- depending on the situation -- to buy food for Federal employees with funds appropriated by Congress. I'm still going to find a way. Those aren't the only funds in the world. I almost had a way to do it, and then the executives wouldn't let us go forward even though the legal folks said it was okay. But, as I said, I will not give up on that. We'll find a way.

ThyPeace, notes that there are people who do stupid things everywhere. The private sector fires them. The public sector makes more rules.
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My take-away from skimming it is that "MC" is a highly-motivated, career-minded individual that is probably looking to climb the management ladder.

Man, I didn't get that at all. I'm seeing MC as someone who, because of her belief in the agency mission, and skills, abilities experience, etc., is pulled up the ladder. And people like that will go on up, because they feel they have what it takes to accomplish that mission. The outcome becomes more important that the pay or the perks.

There's probably some ego in that, but there's a lot of people in high-stress, high stakes jobs who see their work as a calling, not a paycheck. I;m not saying that's necessarily correct...even in those places, people die or retire or quit and the place doesn't fold. But it does feel good to be the one that gets things done, that always gets it right. When someone is that mission-focused, it's very easy to put off taking leave, or taking care of themselves.

I used to remind myself that if I got hit by a bus on the way home, stuff would still get done. Just not by me. My mantra for a number of years when pulled in too many directions was "just do what you would do if I got hit by a bus." That at least got people thinking about alternatives.

cm
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I think we got around this by informal social club dues of a couple of bucks a month. I can't imagine a subordinate working too much to get something to eat and not just buying them a sandwich and soda. I guess multiply that by 10 or 100 and that solution gets unrealistic fast, though.

cm,
worked in small places, mostly
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ThyPeace,

You wrote, ThyPeace, notes that there are people who do stupid things everywhere. The private sector fires them. The public sector makes more rules.

You give the private sector too much credit. Don't you read Dilbert? People that do stupid things are as often as not promoted... ;-)

That type of thing is much harder to get away with in some tech companies though. Where I work now, even entry-level employees are often very self-confident and very vocal about their superior's failures...

- Joel
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"I can't imagine a subordinate working too much to get something to eat and not just buying them a sandwich and soda. I guess multiply that by 10 or 100 and that solution gets unrealistic fast, though."

The other problem we have is ethics rules that prohibit employees from spending $ on each other. We get annual ethics training that goes into excrutiating detail about gifts and exchnging things of value.

It's so complicated that I generally don't buy anything for anyone to be safe; as a supervisor, I face even more scrutiny. Why risk a 30+ year career on some stupid ethics violation - not worth the risk.
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"the executives wouldn't let us go forward even though the legal folks said it was okay."

These days, with the GSA conference fiasco fresh in our memory, everyone has gone to an extreme on any action that might have even the slightest perception of impropriety.
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The other problem we have is ethics rules that prohibit employees from spending $ on each other. We get annual ethics training that goes into excrutiating detail about gifts and exchnging things of value.

It's so complicated that I generally don't buy anything for anyone to be safe; as a supervisor, I face even more scrutiny. Why risk a 30+ year career on some stupid ethics violation - not worth the risk.


Hmm...I guess I framed it differently in my head. Why risk my sense of right and wrong over a stupid job? Any place that would fire me for buying a sandwich or a token birthday, wedding, baby shower or Christmas gift for a subordinate, realistically, I wouldn't have lasted long there anyway.

I was always confident, I guess, that I could successfully fight any ethics violation charge. Or that it wouldn't be worth anyone's while to file such a charge.

Guess there's no Secret Santa in your workplace. I can see that as being a positive. But I'd hate to think I couldn't treat my unit to lunch once in a while.

cm
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cabinsmama,

You wrote, Hmm...I guess I framed it differently in my head. Why risk my sense of right and wrong over a stupid job? Any place that would fire me for buying a sandwich or a token birthday, wedding, baby shower or Christmas gift for a subordinate, realistically, I wouldn't have lasted long there anyway.

My older brother has worked in the defense industry for all his career. He sometimes bemoans that he's not in the private sector. But he has certain benefits I don't have. And he gets to go out to the test ranges and see his stuff blow things up, which is always cool.

But I would never be able to work in that environment for terribly long. For one thing, I don't think I could turn a blind eye to some of the stuff they do. And all the secrecy. (Public sector companies have secrets too; but most of them would be paralyzed by the paranoia you find in the defense sector.) And there are all the political games involved too. I'm also afraid that if I got into that kind of environment too deep, I might find myself tempted to pull a Snowden or something. Though probably not. I'm probably too practical and paranoid myself to do such a thing - I'd probably just look for another job.

Also, I was always confident, I guess, that I could successfully fight any ethics violation charge. Or that it wouldn't be worth anyone's while to file such a charge.

I'm fairly sure most ethics charges aren't brought up because the person complaining simply wants justice. I think most are politically motivated.

In any case if ethics codes were strictly interpreted these days, people would avoid attempting any casual or interpersonal relations with fellow coworkers as any attempt at initiating such a relationship could probably be viewed as an ethics violation.

Also, Guess there's no Secret Santa in your workplace. I can see that as being a positive. But I'd hate to think I couldn't treat my unit to lunch once in a while.

Ironically I find any type of charity program at work as a potentially serious corporate ethics issue. Disclosure: My employer is currently in the midst of its annual "giving campaign" and proud of it. Of course I'm fairly sure my employer and its management probably have more serious ethics issues. Its really amazes me that I haven't heard that many real complaints. But then maybe I'm just used to all the PC correctness from back home...

- Joel
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Guess there's no Secret Santa in your workplace. I can see that as being a positive.

At my former employers there was a Secret Santa, but it was voluntary and most people didn't participate. A lot of employees originally came from a variety of foreign countries (Russia, India, Egypt, Japan are just some examples) so trying to get everyone on board with a Christian tradition wouldn't work. And for those who did participate, there was a strict dollar limit.

Nancy
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Windowseat,

You wrote, At my former employers there was a Secret Santa, but it was voluntary and most people didn't participate. A lot of employees originally came from a variety of foreign countries (Russia, India, Egypt, Japan are just some examples) so trying to get everyone on board with a Christian tradition wouldn't work. And for those who did participate, there was a strict dollar limit.

I've worked places (in Texas) where Indians or Koreans were in the majority. I work in the Seattle area now. I'm the only Caucasian male born in the states in our team. In fact I may be the only US citizen, though I know two or three probably hold green cards. The single largest group are Chinese, including my boss. (Actually she might be a naturalized citizen. She's married to a local and has kids by him.)

But I've also worked a couple of places back in Texas where management were mostly good-old-boy locals and they occasionally did stuff that probably made their largely H1B hires a bit uncomfortable. For instance, I had one skip-level manager actively campaign to get his reports to sign up to make payroll contributions to a certain Christian-based charity. Lots of my peers felt making the donations were a requirement of the job. Naturally I refused. I got a decent review that year, so I don't think that's why they failed to give me a pay raise... No matter. I took another position a few months later that gave me a 10% bump in pay.

- Joel
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I realize the topic has wandered, but just to be clear, the Federal sector ethics rules on gifts actually allow a supervisor to give a subordinate a gift. Subordinates (or those who make less money) cannot, however, give a superior a gift. There are exceptions for extraordinary events, which means that it is allowable to take up a collection for a gift for something like a wedding or the birth of a child.

Luckily, there is also an exception that says, "These rules do not prohibit an employee from giving a gift to another employee, or accepting a gift from another employee, as long as a personal friendship justifies the gift and the employees are not in the same supervisory “chain of command.” " Which is a good thing because otherwise Christmas and birthdays would be really boring in the ThyPeace household. I have never been aware of a violation of this part of the ethics code.

The stronger gifts rules -- and the ones more likely to be broken in major ways -- involve any Federal employee. No Federal employee is allowed to accept a gift from any "prohibited source."

A prohibited source is a person (or an organization made up of such persons) who:

- is seeking official action by, is doing business or seeking to do business with, or is regulated by the employee's agency, or
- has interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of the employee's official duties.


There are exceptions here, too. An employee may receive a gift worth less than $20 -- a t-shirt, a mug, that sandwich and soda -- as long as the total over the year from any one source is less than $50. This makes for difficult lunches when we go out with people who are contractors. The rule is usually "everyone buys their own," which in some places is considered to be odd bordering on rude.

I have heard of prosecutions on these grounds, though they don't happen all that often. However, this is where corruption and bribery are prevented, and I think the Federal ethics rules as they are stated and enforced are generally good things. (And yes, they are enforced. I have occasionally been involved in situations where ethics reporting and evaluations were required, and it is taken very seriously indeed.)

If anyone is interested in more details about Federal gift ethics, there is a web site here.

http://www.oge.gov/Topics/Gifts-and-Payments/Gifts---Payment...

ThyPeace, notes that there are much stronger and more complex rules when you get into the world of procurement.
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There are exceptions here, too. An employee may receive a gift worth less than $20 -- a t-shirt, a mug, that sandwich and soda -- as long as the total over the year from any one source is less than $50. This makes for difficult lunches when we go out with people who are contractors. The rule is usually "everyone buys their own," which in some places is considered to be odd bordering on rude.

Avis had a similar policy regarding gifts to officers of the company. One man sent my father a Steuben owl

http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/360780376978?lpid=82

and Dad returned it. For years thereafter we received giant tins of pretzels.

Then Dad had his stroke, and had to retire. The man sent the owl back. After Mom died I took it, and I can see it from where I'm sitting.

Nancy
Steuben owls weren't quite as expensive back in those days, but they were still pricy.
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Steuben owls weren't quite as expensive back in those days, but they were still pricy.

I was going to say that a new owl from Steuben would be even more expensive than ebay and discovered that Steuben is now out of business!

I have always wanted one of their handcoolers -- the only thing I could come close to affording (@$250). Handcoolers are tiny, so I assume your owl was a pretty generous gift even then.
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I have always wanted one of their handcoolers -- the only thing I could come close to affording (@$250). Handcoolers are tiny, so I assume your owl was a pretty generous gift even then.

Yes, very. And way over the amount the company allowed. But I thought it was so nice that the man kept it for several years and then sent it to Mom. Dad had bought another Steuben piece for her (a much, much more expensive limited edition piece) so my brother and his wife have that, and I have the owl.

When we were clearing out Mom's apartment my sister set a rule, "You bought it, you get it." Meaning that if it was something we'd given Mom as a present, we had to take it if no one else wanted it.

Nancy
threadwarp!
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"Guess there's no Secret Santa in your workplace. I can see that as being a positive. But I'd hate to think I couldn't treat my unit to lunch once in a while."

Secret Santa is allowed, if the gift value is "nominal," and, no one is forced to participate. Treating folks to lunch - we tend not to do it to steer clear of any wrong perception. It's too bad, but everything has gone to an extreme these days, and as I said earlier, it's just not worth the risk of someone complaining.
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"This makes for difficult lunches when we go out with people who are contractors. The rule is usually "everyone buys their own," "

That's exactly what we do - everyone buys their own all the time. Once again, we all tend to not spend $ on each other because it just makes things easier.
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