Federal Employees News Digest

Not everybody eats

The “logic” behind the latest, longest government shutdown in U.S. history took me back decades to my first newspaper job at a struggling, penny-pinching company.  As reporters, we were paid more than administrative types which is sad, because we weren’t paid very much. My then-wife made more than I did. She was a fingerprint clerk with the FBI.  I depended on three to four hours of overtime (covering church services for the Monday Religion Page and local government night meetings) to put Wonder bread on the table.

My best friend at the paper was an accountant who later became a top notch photographer for The Washington Post. But at the time he made less than I did. And he had two kids.  So he decided to ask his boss, Mr. Shea, for a raise.  Being a logical, fiscal-type, he wrote down his case. Why he needed and deserved the money. His boss invited him in.

Mr. Shea asked my friend Tom to write out his total budget for the month for a family of four. Tom did. Mr. Shea scheduled the next meeting, the budget-meeting, for lunch. Although the paper was tight they went to a nice restaurant and ordered good stuff. And drinks. Several. It was the early 60s. Think Mad Men; skinny people, in skinny ties, smoking and lots of day-long drinking.

Anyhow after several drinks Mr. Shea took out Tom’s budget and rain his finger down the list of expenditures. “Here’s your problem,” he said pointing to the item, “food.” Look at it again, Mr. Shea said, “Your problem isn’t your salary…which is as good as we can do right now. Your problem is food.” In short Tom, his wife and son and daughter were eating too much.  If they’d cut back, life would be good.

We laughed about it later, but at the time, given their diet, it was funny in a not-so-funny-way.

The shutdown (or partial shutdown if you like) reminds me of Mr. Shea’s logic.  Too much food.  Although money /saving really isn’t the issue (even though it nearly always should be up for consideration) the financial impact is huge. People who once said they welcomed and would own the shutdown are now disavowing it.  One side wants a wall. The other a barrier that is part concrete, part drones.  Neither makes much sense.  At times you think---if you are following closely---that they have switched sides. They are now against (or for) what the other side started out being against (or for).  With the 24/7 news cycle, with fake news and with confirmation-biased networks (left and right leaning) it is hard to keep up, keep track.  Sort out what has happened and why.

Why, a teenage philosophy student might ask, would you shut down the largest operation in the country, force some people to work and others not to work (anywhere) and pay them nothing for a month? Or more.  Then, when it’s over (and they always end) pay everybody. Deal with lawsuits for back pay from a previous (2013 lawsuits), once again.  For what?

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again even though it hurts or causes harm, often to the person doing it.

Whoever “wins” (and that will be interpreted by the spin-masters in D.C., New York and L.A.) as a result of the shutdown the politicians who caused it and allowed it to continue did do one smart thing:  They approved funds for the legislative branch (and White House staff so that career politicians and their horse-holders continued to get paid.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above


Edward A. Zurndorfer Certified Financial Planner
Mike Causey Columnist
Tom Fox VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service
Mathew B. Tully Legal Analyst

Free E-Newsletter


I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.

Stay Connected

Latest Forum Posts

Ask the Expert

Have a question regarding your federal employee benefits or retirement?

Submit a question