Q&A – Federal Employees Working Without Pay

Q&A of the day – About federal employees working without pay  

Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods.  

Today’s question comes from Michael. 

I was listening to you this morning and just have a comment about your statement that the partial government shutdown is not affecting the general public.  As an air traffic controller I am still going to work and doing my job but not getting paid and that is partially why the general public is not feeling it.  

At some point, if the shutdown continues, I as well as my fellow controllers will be forced to find another source of income and we will no longer be able to go to work guiding planes.  At that point airlines, pilots, flight attendants, support crews, skycaps, taxi services, airport retail services, and a multitude of other industries will be affected not to mention the millions of people who need to travel.   

That is when the public will start to feel the pain of the lack of government services.

Bottom Line: That’s certainly a valid point to specifically address. From the onset of this conversation, I’ve mentioned that I hold no animus specifically towards federal employees, even those who work in one of the 430 federal agencies that I’m pretty sure no one other than they could name. Additionally, I’ve mentioned that this isn’t a sustainable way to manage the government because of essential service professionals such as yourself. It is unfortunate that you and those in similar situations are caught in the middle of this. I hear you loud and clear that somewhere along the way something will have to give.

At the same time, and this isn’t meant to diminish your situation, it is the job you signed up for with the knowledge that you could be called on to perform under these circumstances. Adversity is something that every professional faces in the private sector as well, often with far less job security and lesser benefits. 

You’ve likely heard by now that north of 800,000 federal employees are furloughed during this partial government shutdown. How many are essential employees working during the shutdown like Michael? I pulled these numbers from the federal government by department. 

  • 95,302 – National Security (84% of employees) 
  • 51,739 – TSA (100% of employees) 
  • 54,935 – Border & Customs (91% of employees) 

There are a myriad of agencies within those departments. That brings a grand total of 201,976 people. In other words, about a quarter of employees impacted by the partial federal government shutdown are essential service professionals still working during the shutdown. Most of these employees haven’t yet missed a scheduled paycheck but all will in the not-so-distant future if there isn’t a solution to the existing standoff.  

For that reason, perhaps its most accurate to say that while a quarter of the federal government is furloughed, it’s really about 19% that’s not operating. Up to this point, I’ve illustrated, through what I believe is a teachable moment, how generally unimpacted almost all Americans lives are while a quarter of the federal government isn’t operational. I think it presents the opportunity that we likely could thrive as a country with far less federal government than we currently have and pay for. 

If you're questioning that, try seeing how many of the 430 federal government agencies you name. Come up with anywhere close to the 430 and I’ll listen to your argument. 

Photo by: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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