Readers fret about shutdown risk

Our readers express anger, worry, cynicism in face of possible government shutdown.

If the government shuts down in March, which it will if Congress doesn't reach agreement on a measure to provide funding for the remainder of fiscal 2011 by the end of February, it's a sure bet that many federal employees will be sent home and many federal services will stop. However, beyond that not much is clear.

Federal Computer Week readers are angry about the prospect, though, at least based on comments posted to our recent stories about the possibility.

"I remember the last shutdown," which happened in the winter of 1995 into 1996, wrote one commenter. "I was working in the D.C. area at the time. I also remember what broke the shutdown, and you don't see anyone writing about this. The federal judges told Congress if there was no budget for the federal government to operate, then it was illegal for the federal government to detain and hold federal prisoners. Basically the judges made a threat that Congress couldn't live with. Pass a budget or the doors to prisons would be open and the prisoners let go. Overnight all federal law enforcement had a budget. We were ordered back to work and the night before D.C. was clobbered by the biggest winter storm in a long time. It shut down D.C. for three days."

"As in the 1995-96 shutdown, political posturing takes priority over running the country efficiently," wrote another. "Look at the tremendous waste last time. We were paid to stay home and be totally stressed out, then we had to return to work and try to complete 52 weeks of work in 50 weeks."

One major question no one has yet answered is whether employees who are furloughed will receive back pay when they return to work. Although it has happened in past shutdowns, it isn't required.

"Don't be surprised if Republicans eliminate the back pay of gov[ernment] workers," one cynical reader wrote. "In the private sector, the worker is responsible for covering for the time loss during furloughs either through vacation time or loss of salary."

And another wrote, "[In my opinion], keeping people on the clock absent a valid current appropriations bill is illegal, but I know nobody will ever do anything about it. And the employees and vendors always get their back pay or money anyway, since the financial system is not capable of mass changes. They should change the law, or the constitution if needed -- Congress is not allowed to do anything else (no bills, no travel, etc.), until they pass all the appropriation bills at the start of each session. That is their main job duty."

Congress gets the brunt of the blame from many of our readers.

"I remember when the fiscal year ended in June," one reader wrote. "I suspect that at one time it ended in March. The fact is no matter when it ends, Congress will let it slide. They are not injured. The federal workers are ignored in all this. Adding insult to injury, our retirement fund was raided to fund the last shutdown. I don't know if it was repaid. The country doesn't respect the work the [federal] employees do because we are muted by law, unable to defend ourselves. We would be fired for such a failure to perform."

But at least one reader found a silver lining, writing: "Good. Once the government shuts down, I can take some of my 260 hours of leave that I haven't been able to take, before the bosses take it away."