It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.
Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible.
In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.
With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude.
1. New food. I’ve got maybe 18 or 20 basic meals that I can make with my eyes closed. They’re reliably tasty and lead to plenty of leftovers. The trouble is, at some point, a guy gets tired of eating the same 20 basic meals and then tries to branch out with new recipes. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing. The real injury comes after the cooking, when you sit down and the dinner table and realize that although the meal may be nutritious and even edible, you just don’t like it. I think the biggest reason I keep falling back on the tried-and-true meals that I’m a bit burned out on is that the other side of the coin is that two out of three new meals attempted turns out being something I’ll choke down because it’s hot and ready, but the remainder of which ends up being tossed into the woods when I clean out the refrigerator. With the cost of groceries and the time investment to actually cook, new and different increasingly feels like a high-risk venture.
2. Alternative Pay. The president has issued his alternative pay proposal for fiscal year 2023. At 4.6%, it’s the biggest yearly raise I’ve seen in 19 years of service. It’s a number that would feel impressive if it weren’t just half of what the official rate of inflation was this year. Having lived through the years of furlough and pay freezes, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but given the prevailing circumstances of the overall economic situation, I’m also not going to hire a brass band to celebrate the “generosity” of the Biden administration.
3. Bicyclists. I don’t have any intrinsic problem with bicycles. Some of the people who ride them, however, are deeply suspect. The two who decided to cross the Susquehanna River at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon obviously had no regard for their own health and safety. Yes, what they did was nominally legal, but it seems to me it’s a case of knowing the difference between the things you can do and the things you should do. Taking up a full lane of a heavily traveled and narrow bridge during peak commuting time was patently dangerous to them and to everyone who had to unexpectedly try to avoid them. The only positive I could see from when I finally managed to shift lanes and get around them, is that the look on their faces made it abundantly clear they were aware of having made a seriously questionable life choice.
Way back on June 1st, 2006 I published my first blog post… on MySpace. A lot has changed in the intervening 16 years. For instance, well, MySpace doesn’t seem to be much of a thing anymore. I’ve also managed to get 16 years older, which I suppose is nice give the binary alternative.
I’m not big on celebrating my own birthdays, but having something to say day in and day out for 16 years feels like an accomplishment worth noting.
With 3,660 posts under the bridge, being loud and obnoxious about having an opinion is still something I enjoy the hell out of doing (most of the time). It’s not without some irony that I recognize it’s the job I’ve enjoyed most all these years and it’s also the one that’s paid me virtually nothing. It hasn’t proven to be a money maker, but relieving all this bile on a regular basis is probably the thing that has kept me a reasonable approximation of sane.
So that’s it. That’s the post. If you want to see where it all started, you can check out that very first post here.
1. Parity. Part of my job this week was calling around and talking to people from other organizations who are saddled with their own version of my favorite dog and pony show. It’s no surprise that everyone I spoke to runs theirs a little differently. I didn’t uncover anything unexpected or particularly helpful, but I did discover that everywhere else, the person these other offices put in charge of their annual spectacular is at least graded out as a deputy director. Put another way they are all, a minimum of one good pay grade or two notches on the org chart higher than me. Yeah, that was a feel-good moment right there.
2. Inflation alarm. The federal government poured vast amounts of money into the economy over the last eighteen months in the form of direct payments via enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus payments and the Paycheck Protection Program. People, as they tend to do when they have money in their pockets, went on a buying binge. Stocks, houses, and consumer goods were all in the crosshairs of people with cash to spend. We spent so hard we overwhelmed the supply side’s ability to keep up with demand. And now, the headlines are screaming that we’re supposed to be shocked that inflation has taken hold and the price of good and services is increasing. Beyond the few classes I had to take as part of a social science major, I’m not a student of economics… even so, the results of increasing demand, limited supply, and boatloads of money in circulation is almost entirely predictable, no?
3. The waiting. Here I sit. About seven hours after getting the COVID-19 booster jammed into my arm. I feel fine, with barely even a sore arm to show for my trouble. What I do have, though, is the uncomfortable period of waiting. My first COVID shot was a non event. After getting my second Moderna shot way back in March, I had a bit of an aching arm, but went to bed and woke up the next morning feeling fine. Exactly twenty-four hours after the jab, though, I got to experience the unpleasant hit-by-a-bus feeling advertised as a potential side effect – chills, aches, lethargy – pretty much the full list with the merciful exception of nausea. That one skipped me, somehow. In any case, I’m sitting here, waiting to see what things look like around lunchtime tomorrow. Prevention is worth a pound of cure and all that, but I’m trying to mentally prepare for another lost day.
Over the last few days, I’ve watched a handful of news segments and read several stories all striving to make a common point – that businesses from local mom and pop restaurants to heavy industry are having difficulty filling vacant positions.
Some of these stories cite the “Amazon Effect,” that has entry level new hires streaming to fill openings in warehousing and distribution. Others lay the blame with too much free money passed out in the form of federal stimulus payments and increased unemployment.
It seems to me that the most straightforward way to resolve this particular imbalance between the demand for these workers and their limited supply is to increase wages to the point where there are enough people to fill vacancies.
Admittedly, I’m not a fancy big city economist, but raising wages feels like a fairly basic, tried and true way to attract people into a particular job or even into an entire segment of the workforce. Yes, it means in some cases the products and services being offered by those businesses will cost more, but if your business can’t generate the revenue necessary to hire people to do the work, you have more of a vanity project than a business anyway.
1. Handholding. If you’re a “professional” well into middle age and need constant hand holding and reassurance, perhaps you’ve got into the wrong career field. I don’t have the time or inclination to sooth your forehead with a cool rag and assure you that everything really will be alright. You might be the most important player in your own drama, but I can promise you’re not carrying enough rank or influence to convince me to give much of a shit before I write you off as a whiny sonofabitch and consign your future efforts to the ever growing file of received, but unread email.
2. $15 an hour. Want $15 an hour, you can start by doing a good job to begin with. The last three times I’ve been through a particular fast food joint they’ve gotten the order wrong – wrong size, wrong item, and then the last time, the whole order, fries included, dumped loose into the bag. I went in to complain about that last one. The manager looked like she couldn’t be bothered, her blank stare clearly not comprehending why I wasn’t satisfied. Pay rates should, in part, reflect the level of difficulty of the job and the quality with which it is performed. Why anyone expects a 100% raise for what seems to be an increasingly abysmal level of service is well and truly beyond me. Maybe think about earning that raise, you’d be amazed how good it feels to have a little self respect instead of getting something for nothing.
3. Interest rates. Mortgage interest rates are bumping along towards or at historic lows. They currently make the first mortgage I got 20+ years ago look almost usurious by comparison. The problem is mostly that the rates are low enough now that it’s starting to tempt me towards refinancing the mortgage on the ol’ homestead. Without fully running the numbers, I’ve got to think there are a few dollars to be saved if I can drop my rate a couple quarters of a percent. And that’s when I start to remember the absolute rage-inducing process that accompanies mortgage refinancing… and I’m left wondering if any kind of savings is really worth going through it unnecessarily. I’ll be off to the next place well before I pay off the note on the current house. The less crazy making course of action may well be keeping what’s already a respectably low interest rate and just ignoring the promise of a few less dollars flowing out every month, tempting though it is.
There was a time in my career I would have done back flips about the possibility of working 12-hour shifts. The work week that consists of basically three days on four off, the possibility of a steady supply of overtime, night differential, and holiday pay. Now that I’ve over-topped my projected career halfway point, though, the idea is less appealing on just about every level.
I’ve never wanted or expected something for nothing. I don’t mind doing the work in exchange for the pay… but in any duration that stretches on for much more than eight hours, I lose interested and focus at an alarming, perhaps even exponential, rate.
I’m not shy about telling anyone that I’ve long since reached the point in life where, with a handful of possible exceptions, the only place I really want to be is home. I’ve spent a not insignificant amount of money just to have those four walls and a roof. There are dogs and a cat and a tortoise there. The furniture is comfortable. I control the temperature and in a pinch can even make my own electricity. I’ve spent a half a lifetime filling the space with objects of at least personal significance. If it wasn’t the place I most wanted to be, I’d be concerned that I was doing something completely wrong.
I suppose that’s all a long way of saying that I’m going to take a pass at “volunteering” my name for the short list of people who might be willing to sign up for 12-hour days at some indeterminate point in a possible future.
1. The First Amendment. It’s plain that the First Amendment doesn’t mean what the masses on the internet seem to think it means. The 1st protects you from the government interfering with your speech in all its many forms. It means the FBI won’t come kick down your door when someone gets butthurt about something you posted on Facebook. By contrast this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with what a business such as Facebook will let you post on their platform… that you joined voluntarily and pay nothing to use. If you’re going to crusade for your rights, perhaps it would be helpful to first know what those rights actually are… because the Constitution nowhere guarantees your right to force a 3rd party to use their property to amplify your voice.
2. The Office of Personnel Management. It’s been 41 days since the bill authorizing a pay raise for employees of my Big Bureaucratic Organization was signed into law. It apparently takes at least that long to calculate what 1.9% of 2018’s pay tables were and add those two numbers together. And don’t get me started on the fact that if the legislative and executive branches weren’t both being led by children, that raise would have started showing up my pay sometime in January. Yes it’s allegedly retroactive, which is nice and all… but that also means the tax man is going to take a massive cut out of whatever check three or four months of retroactive extra pay eventually slide into. If only there were some parts of government who’s main job was formulating and executing timely budgets for departments and agencies perhaps this wouldn’t be such a difficult exercise.
3. Extraneous logins. I have accounts on more than one system at work that exist purely so I can log on to those systems once a week in order to keep my account active. I never have any actual work associated with those accounts and yet once a week I log on just to avoid getting an angry warning that my account is about to be disabled from our IT office. Like the old coffee can full of extraneous bits and pieces you keep in the garage, I’m told to keep these accounts active “in case you need them some day.” That this is how we do business never fails to stupefy me if I dwell on it for too long.
Yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of my life in sworn service to our mad uncle. People say that time flies when you’re having fun, but in my experience having fun is entirely optional. Time just flies. Well, more specifically, the years seem to fly. Individual days feel like they might well last for weeks on end. It’s when they get rolled up into their individual 365-count bundles that they race away from you.
From my vantage point here as a solidly mid-career bureaucrat, I won’t pretend there haven’t been some good times. A few of them are probably only good in retrospect and with the benefit of distance from the facts, but that’s probably to be expected. Over the last 16 years I’ve been privileged to meet some of the smartest human beings I’ve ever known. I’ve also met more than a few sniveling, conniving, climbers who I’d happily shank in a dark alley if I ever got the chance – and thought I could get away clean. Not one of that bunch is worth going to prison over, though I hope I’m still around when they inevitably overreach.
About once a year someone on the outside asks if I’d recommend government work. A decade ago I’d have said yes. Government work isn’t going to make you rich, but the pay doesn’t suck, the health and retirement plans are good, and you never have to worry about your employer going out of business. It was a haven for those who value stability – a place of low risk and correspondingly modest rewards. After a decade of living through multiple hiring freezes, multiple pay freezes, and multiple government shutdowns, though, I couldn’t recommend it with a clear conscience these days.
Uncle is no longer a stable employer – pay and benefits are just another political football at risk every year. If you’re going to live with that much uncertainty, you might as well go work in the private sector where you might have a chance at making some real money for assuming the risk that your company or contract won’t be there a year from now. I won’t go so far as saying that both options are equal – but the assessment of whether public service or the private sector is a better place to have a career feels like more of a dice roll now that it has in the last 16 years.
In a few months I’ll climb over the halfway point on the long road to whatever retirement might look like in or about 2035. That feels like a far more important milestone than yesterday’s just passing another year on the job. Who knows, maybe my mood will even improve. Probably not, but it would be a neat trick if it did.
Assuming I keep up with it so long, I think I can safely say that this blog will expire on or about the day I retire. It turns out that when I don’t have the job sucking every ounce of fun out of five days each week, I really just don’t have that much to say. That explains the spotty schedule of posting I maintained over the last couple of weeks. Not only didn’t I have much to say, but I had virtually no interest in sitting down and writing up whatever was rattling around in my head. It turns out you don’t need much catharsis when you don’t have something agitating the hell out of you on a regular basis.
The good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective is that the days of not needing to vent my spleen on a regular basis are still far off in the future. Now that we’re back on the normal schedule, I have a feeling that my notebook will soon be refilled with all manner of angst-causing stories just begging to be told.
Look, I’m thankful for the pay check – and glad I’m not one of those poor bastards at State, or Treasury, or Homeland Security either working for nothing or stuck sitting around waiting and wondering when the next direct deposit is going to hit. That shouldn’t put anyone under the delusion that there’s nothing I’d rather being doing than clearing two weeks worth of emails from my inbox while scouring them for the one or two nuggets that might need some actual attention.
We’re back… and that’s probably a good thing in that long march out towards the back half of this career… but don’t think for a minute I’m not missing the long, lazy days when a few critters and a good book was more than enough to fill the passing hours.