The hostage situation is over; the president has lifted the government shutdown. If this is a teachable moment, what have we learned? Probably one of the surprises is how vital public services are to the general health and welfare of the modern American society. Public safety systems were under significant stress and were beginning to break down, such as air traffic control. Even paperwork agencies need to run smoothly in the modern world. An example is the processing of tax returns—many people rely on that annual refund check. We thought we were talking about border security, only to find that the lack of people at their desks was stalling justice in the court system.
The shutdown exposed a new wrinkle in American governing practice. To make it look like the number of government employees is low, many offices depend on contractors. While government workers will receive their duly authorized pay, contractors apparently may not.
That realization was why Jon Russell’s Jan. 13 column, “How to survive the government shutdown,” left me cold. Not only did he dismiss federal government services, Jon felt it necessary to demonstrate a condescending attitude toward federal employees. He writes, “...most people see Washington, D.C. as a place where the well-protected, beautiful people live on our dime.” Does he not know that the vast majority of federal employees and contractors are distributed in local communities all across America? There was no acknowledgement that air traffic controllers and TSA agents live right here in Culpeper.
We are talking about public servants who have mortgages, car payments, school expenses and health treatments that have to be postponed because a month’s pay has been delayed. Beautiful people? Who had to go to a food bank? Are public servants so disposable in Russell’s eyes that we should joke about a predicament from which American citizens have no means to protect themselves? I agree with Jon’s suggestion, however—next shutdown go to a local restaurant, but take a furloughed neighbor with you.
Editor’s Note: this letter originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author’s permission.
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