Saturday, February 23, 2013

Getting Sequestered

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said something I agreed with yesterday.

He said that if government employees got furloughed, the Congress should also give back the equivalent amount of their salaries. If we lose 20% of our pay, so should they.

Of course, I don't believe that will happen because it will be voluntary. Their pay, although they too are government employees, cannot be frozen, cannot be cut. They are still, according to the law they passed, getting their annual salary increases. Not so for their staffs, who will get furloughed, but they are safe unless they volunteer to share in the pain of the crisis that is wholly of their creation.

And as one member of Congress said when we were last facing a government shutdown, he depends on his $174,000 annual salary too take care of his family. So he can't volunteer to go without his pay.

My staff and I too depend on our considerably less than $174,000 salaries to support our families. Many in our embassy are single parents or the primary (or only) source of income for their families. But unlike Congress, if there are furloughs, we will be forced to accept it.

These furloughs will be different than those in the past. In the past, during government shutdowns, the cause has been Congress's inability to pass a budget. Once it was passed, people got their back pay. This will not happen this time. So those of us who have been fiscally responsible, who bought homes we could afford and took jobs with the government because though they offered less pay than the private sector, they did offer more security, will not get that money back. And many will not be able to pay the bills they committed to. Not because we were extravagant. Not because we didn't plan properly or lived beyond our means. But because Congress broke faith with us, made a contract with us in exchange for our service to the country, and then decided their word didn't matter. Federal salaries are but a fraction of the federal budget, and yet they freeze our pay for years, drastically reducing the amount we will have to live on in retirement, because we are good whipping boys. Because they can depend on us still doing the work and the American people not realizing how much they need us because we continue to step up to the challenge. We continue to to provide what the American people expect with less money and resources.

I occasionally remind my friends and family back home, when they make a remarks about gays in the Boy Scouts, for example, that when they talk about them, they are talking about me. I feel a bit of a need to do that here as well. When you are talking about sticking it to federal employees, you are not talking about the woman at the DMV who pissed you off. She is not a federal employee. You are talking about me. And about my staff. And about Ambassador Chris Stevens and Mustafa Akarsu who gave their lives for this country. We are the ones you want to stick it to, the ones these cuts will hurt most.

I have been trying to prepare for the coming cuts. A part of my job is dealing with my budget, since Public Affairs funds are separate from the rest of the embassy's funds. So yesterday, I went through my budget trying to figure out where the make the cuts if I am required to. They will be harsh, but I can do it without furloughing my people. But it will mean less programs, programs that we use like every PD section in the world, to reach out to foreign publics in the hopes of meeting our foreign policy goals.

This is exactly what I think should happen in the states should the furloughs come. We should not be expected to do the same amount of work if we are able to work 20% less time. We have been doing more with less for years now, and contrary to what many in the U.S. think, our budgets are not bloated. We are not fat cat government employees. We do real jobs that accomplish real things the American public needs us to accomplish. And I can't see how we will be able to continue to do them with these cuts.

And I wonder, if we are unable to address the needs of the American people, if they will then realize they need the government. And if that happens, I wonder if they will finally pressure Congress to either share the pain or fix the problem rather than resorting once again to beating their favorite whipping boy.


BaghdadAnne said...

AMEN! Could not have said it better myself.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. Sadly, getting elected to Congress usually involves being wealthy before ever getting elected (and garnering profitable speaking fees after departing Congress). Losing that $174k matters little to those who degrade us and our commitment to service.

Stewart Wight