Shut Down Gets Personal   Leave a comment

As I said, Alaska as a LOT of federal employees. We’re 2 or 3 in the nation, depending on the news article. So there are at least three non-military federal employees going to my church. The “shut down” just got personal, because these are people I know and care about.

However ….

One man is still working — he’s TSA, so is considered an “essential” worker. He began looking for other work several months ago anyway. This is just making him look harder.

The stories of the other two are interesting in their diversity.

The woman who works for federal wildlife is freaking out because she didn’t plan for something like this and she can’t pay her bills.

The guy who works for the fire service was calm and collected. He typically takes a couple of weeks off this time of year because his schedule is insane during the summer fire season, so he’d be hanging out at home anyway. He and his wife and kids live on his income alone, but it’s a good income and they live modestly, so they have six months’ of operating expenses saved for a rainy day. He said when his slightly shifted two-week vacation is over, he’ll start doing the computer work he does all winter from home, so he will be legitimately eligible for back pay. I asked him if he could hang on until after Christmas as some of the pundits are saying it might go that long and he said he could. The State of Alaska has been head-hunting him for a decade, so if the federal government permanently contracts he’s likely got a job if he wants one. He’s got one more year before he has 20 in with the feds, which triggers important changes in retirement, which is what he’s holding out for — but he also really likes what he does in his job.

It’s painful to watch friends struggle. I’ve been there myself and I know it’s not fun. However —

Planning ahead for the inevitable federal contraction should have been Plan A for every federal employee. Right now it’s temporary, but it should be permanent. My friend who works for the fire service wisely planned for that inevitablity. Federal employees typically make 52% more than workers doing similar jobs in the private sector. They can afford to save for their future and they should.

Does the federal government really need to do things like the fire service? The fire service is an essential function in Alaska’s summers. Black spruce will burn if a moose exhales too warmly. I’m not saying the job my friend does is not essential. But does the federal government need to do it? The State of Alaska already has agencies that do something similar and my friend has already been given an open door to that employment.

Does the federal government really need to do wildlife service? Again, the State of Alaska has a very large wildlife division.

Does the federal government really need to do the TSA? These functions used to be done by private contractors for local airports. There’s no evidence that TSA is doing a better job than they did. Yes, three planes were hijacked, but I’m not convinced that the TSA could stop that any better than private contractors would.

Just because the contraction of government services became personal does not change my essential belief that the federal government is bloated beyond sustainability and needs to be severely pared down. Right now about 85% of the structure is still functioning, but in reality, by 2025, the structure should be one-third of what it currently is.  With the exception of those workers currently employed by the federal government needing to go find other jobs, the services that the federal government provides are largely unnecessary, duplicative of state-level agencies or could be performed by the private sector. Those federal employees who have good skills and a good work ethic will be able to find similar work in state government or the private sector. They probably won’t get paid as much, which stinks for them, but they should never have been allowed to make more than the prevailing wages of their employers (we the people) anyway.

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