Either or…

Yesterday, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) forwarded a memo to the heads of federal executive departments and agencies instructing them to prepare for a government-wide shutdown beginning on October 1st. Congress seems prepared to once again neglect one of the only specific duties it has by failing to pass a budget to fund the government into the new fiscal year. I only wish I could say that such asshattery from our alleged political leaders is surprising. I think at this point, I’d actually be more surprised if they could collectively manage to do something that was in the best interests of the country.

After enduring an ongoing hiring freeze, three+ years of frozen pay, furloughs, and no discussion of a plan to repeal nine more years of sequestration-driven budget cuts, an all out federal shutdown really just feels like par on this ridiculously stupid course. Add a dysfunctional legislative branch, an executive who would cut down every constitutional right in the book to advance his agenda, and an almost universally apathetic electorate, well, maybe we’re getting exactly the kind of “leadership” we deserve as a country.

On the whole I’m finding it more and more difficult to figure out if I’m a professional serving the world’s oldest operating constitutional republic or an extra just passing through an increasingly farcical two bit comedy.

The storm before the bigger storm…

So the intrepid leadership of the Dysfunction of Defense has magically discovered a way to reduce the total number of required furlough days for civilian personnel from eleven to six. On the surface, that sounds like a fine thing and if you’re not picky about the details and surrounding circumstances, I suppose it would be. Being the slightly jaded and cynical jerk that I am, of course, I have a slightly different take on how things are going inside that five sided funny farm on the banks of the Potomac.

As close as I can figure, reducing the number of furlough days probably has as much if not more to do with the legal requirements for the Department to close the books on the fiscal year before the clock strikes midnight on September 30th. Someone, somewhere deep in the bowels of The Building has probably realized that along with the rest of us schleps, the finance and logistics people they need to close out the fiscal year are also working 20% fewer days and not authorized overtime. In my experience, that makes completing the year end financial festivities a statistical impossibility. Woops.

Another perk of getting everyone back to the office in the next week or two is that it gets everyone into a nice routine for the inevitable shitstorm that’s going to take place at the start of FY14. My best guess is that the fiscal year about to start on October 1st will include such highly sought after features as Debt Ceiling Induced Government-wide Shutdown, Furlough: Part II, Reductions in Force, and Pay Freeze: Part 4. Hopefully I’m wrong about some or all of those predictions, but I don’t think I am.

I have the sinking feeling that this six day furlough was a dry run – the storm before the even bigger storm ahead.

So you were expecting a thank you?

Secretary Hagel announced this afternoon that the department was reducing it’s number of planned furlough days for civilians from 14 to 11. That’s down from the original estimate of 22 days they were talking about back in February and March. Judging from the blip of coverage I’ve seen, the media consensus is that defense civilians should be doing cartwheels and singing hosannas at the “good news.” That’s a problem for me.
Duh 2
While it’s true that 14 is better than 22 and 11 is better than 14, I’m not willing to concede the point that any number of furlough days is a “good” thing. In fact it’s bad precedent for the next 9 years of sequestration planning, it’s bad for productivity, and it’s bad for morale. I’m not going to get on the band wagon of a 5% pay cut this year (after 3 years of frozen pay) being a good thing. I’m not lending even the hint of my accepting the idea that this is anything other than a political problem being solved on the backs of a workforce that they’ve already spent three years beating like redheaded stepchildren.

The story we’re being sold is that leadership has “saved” the workforce from the worst effects of the sequester. The reality is that all you’ve done is replace one really shitty course of action with another slightly less really shitty course of action. It’s hard to imagine why I wouldn’t be falling all over myself with gratitude. I wouldn’t thank a mugger because he didn’t take all the cash in my wallet and I’m not going to thank our illustrious leaders for legally doing the same thing. If they were expecting a thank you for their half assed attempt at “leadership,” boy did they come to the wrong place.

Year three…

This rental house on the Elk Neck peninsula was supposed to be an expedient. It was available immediately and met my criteria of having a fence and room for the dogs. With a kitchen and bathroom that I can only generously describe as “dated” and with what I still think of as an oddball three-level layout, it was really the only option I looked at because it had the supreme virtue of being available. That’s a bit of a concern when you’ve driven halfway across the continent and every stick of your belongings are following along less than 24 hours behind you.

I never intended this place to be a long term commitment. The plan was to do a year and be out to something bigger, better, and more importantly, something my own. Of course the housing market continued to tank, the notion of taking on a 3rd mortgage got even more farfetched, and inertia set in. Let’s just say I couldn’t (and still can’t) muster much interest in packing everything up and just moving from Rental A to Rental B. If I’m going to jam everything back into boxes, it’s going to be to go somewhere with a little more permanence… and between pay freezes and impending furloughs that’s not happening in the immediate future.

Once I managed to get the asshat property manager out of the way and started dealing directly with the owners, at least the “retail” side of being a renter again got easier. That counts for more than you’d think… which is why I just renewed the lease out through June 2014. It’s not optimal and certainly not where I expected I’d be three years on. I’ve come to think of it as the blood sacrifice I’ve had to pay for getting my feet back on the good earth of my native state. At least that’s the story I tell myself to keep it from being too aggravating.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Filling in all the down time. I’ve got a marked tendency towards filling every available gap in down time with something I deem to be productive. That might be a good habit to have when you’re working full time, writing 20+ hours a week, and trying to keep a house from being covered in filth, but I’ll be honest, that part of me that is fundamentally a slacker really misses big blocks of down time – those chunks of time when I played video games, watched movies, and otherwise did absolutely nothing productive. Lately it’s been a mad dash to get it all in before crashing at 10:00 or 11:00 in hopes of squeezing in five or six hours of sleep. I’m not sure that’s going to, or if it can be an enduring schedule for me, but since there’s still so many things I want to get too and not so much in the way of time available to get to them, there doesn’t feel like there’s going to be much room for change in the foreseeable future.

2. Wants versus needs. In a perfect world I’d divide my day more or less equally between writing and sitting on a beach on some out of the way island. Unfortunately, I need to eat, need to pay rent, and need some kind of nominally stable income (which is what government work use to be before the sequester kicked in). Whereas I want to write, I actually need to work… unless I can gin up a way to start selling 137 copies of Nobody Told Me… The Cynic’s Guide for New Employees every day of the year. All I need to is improve sales by 6850% and I’ll be all set to unify my wants and my needs under one banner. I was probably happier before I knew that little factoid.

3. The Congress of the United States. One of my perennial favorites. On a positive note, they appear to have managed to pass a continuing resolution (not to be confused with an actual budget) that will keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year while continuing the federal pay freeze through the end of its third year. Somewhere in the fine print, they also managed to allow DoD to dodge sending out 800,000 furlough notices for two more weeks… which doesn’t actually mean that anyone will be furloughed for fewer days, just that we’ll have less time to cram in all the days into an ever shortening fiscal yeah. I’m sure the Members are deeply relieved by this while they head home to enjoy their two-week Easter recess. Even now I’m sometimes still amazed that this is the way we really run this country. Bat. Shit. Crazy.