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.
I’ve been blogging here at jeffreytharp.com for almost three years now. For all my other ranting and raving, the single most searched for and commented on posts were consistently focused on the 2011 Army hiring freeze. Some version of “hiring freeze” has been in the top spot for searches that bring people to the blog. Now, I love web traffic as much as any blogger, but honestly, I hoped that was a topical area that I’d be able to leave dead and buried. The hiring freeze that trapped me two years ago is long gone, but it’s been replaced by a newer, broader, and seemingly more permanent version. That doesn’t bode well for the average person working the line in an organization that has always sung the praises of personal mobility as a means to progress to reaching bigger and better opportunities.
In a world where a one-half-of-one-percent raise is a political football, the future does not look like a particularly bright, shiny place. Throw in what looks like a cross between budgetary indecision and panic at the most senior levels of leadership, the knowledge that the worse of the cuts aren’t yet here, and that there’s now open talk of across-the-board furloughs and reductions in force for the first time in a generation, and well, you’ve got yourself a workforce that shows up every day wondering when the other shoe is going to hurtle out of the sky like a dying communications satellite.
Even if the budget situation is resolved without what feels like almost inevitable bloodletting, it’s already taken its toll. Not backfilling empty positions, piling more work on those who remain, holding salaries flat as the price of everything else increases, and repeatedly telling everyone that the worst is yet to come isn’t a recipe for getting the most out of a workforce. In this one case, my hat’s off to management for trying their best to moderate the worst of the outside forces that impact all of us… but when your fates all hang on the ability of politicians to get things done in a smart and timely manner, well, you can understand my not being particularly optimistic about what the future holds.
That’s my view from my fighting position, anyway. So let’s all cross out fingers and hope that someone proves me wrong.
Nothing warms the heart of the guy who just snuck in the door before the hiring freeze snapped its icy jaws shut then sitting in a staff meeting talking about how his new agency will be offering early retirements and voluntary separation incentives between now and the end of the year. Those options are the last line of defense to head off a more general reduction in force if the total number of employees does not drop below the approved baseline. Fortunately, I’ve got enough years of service to not show up on the absolute bottom of list, but a far cry from enough to be anywhere in the top half or maybe even in the top two-thirds. Still, it looks like we could be in for a long winter game of I bump you, you bump me, and some old timer comes in and bumps both of us closer to the bottom of the list. That’s a great way to spend the long cold months of the year. Uncle usually offers pretty good work when you can get it, but it appears that we’re about to enter unusual times. So in the meantime, if anyone needs the services of a freelance blogger-logistician-analyst feel free to contact the business manager here at http://www.jeffreytharp.com.