From Maine to Colorado, Shutdown Puts Lives on Hold

Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson (left) and Scott and Lisa Jenkins  
National Journal
National Journal Staff
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National Journal Staff
Oct. 8, 2013, 1:46 p.m.

The gov­ern­ment shut­down that is now in its second week is af­fect­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­er­al em­ploy­ees around the coun­try. While the work stop­page con­tin­ues, Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily is ask­ing some of those pub­lic ser­vants to share stor­ies of what they and all Amer­ic­ans are miss­ing without their gov­ern­ment at full strength.

Fly­ing Low

The Air Force Academy Ca­det Field House — a massive struc­ture that houses an in­door play­ing field and a 2,470-seat ice-hockey rink — is usu­ally abuzz with activ­ity.

But that was be­fore the shut­down, and with it, the sus­pen­sion of in­ter­col­legi­ate sports at the glit­ter­ing ser­vice academy perched in the foot­hills north of Col­or­ado Springs, Colo.

“It’s com­pletely dis­rupt­ive — as you can ima­gine — to have 1,000 people you rely on to stay at home,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle D. John­son, su­per­in­tend­ent of the Air Force Academy, at a press con­fer­ence last Thursday on the main quad. “We take it very ser­i­ously, be­cause we’re here build­ing a fu­ture, build­ing lieu­ten­ants who are com­pet­ent and con­fid­ent and cap­able to go out and lead.”

At that time, John­son had sent home about 1,000 of the academy’s 1,500 ci­vil­ian work­ers and sus­pen­ded 60 of the in­sti­tu­tion’s 300 courses. Since then, she has re­versed course and re­called nearly all of them.

One of the more com­ic­al ef­fects — and the one that garnered the most me­dia at­ten­tion — was a lack of toi­let pa­per in some cam­pus dorm­it­or­ies. “We’re not al­ways aware at a really high level of who has the con­tract for the toi­let pa­per,” John­son said. “But we found out pretty fast, and we fixed it, be­cause that’s tre­mend­ously [im­port­ant].”

Oth­er ad­just­ments in­clude bring­ing in non-academy mil­it­ary per­son­nel to patrol the peri­met­er of the fa­cil­ity and can­celing ca­dets’ train­ing flights.

Yet, it is the sus­pen­sion of in­ter­col­legi­ate sports that has taken the biggest toll on mor­ale. Last Sat­urday, the Air Force Fal­cons foot­ball squad played the Navy Mid­ship­men in An­na­pol­is, Md. — the Fal­cons lost 28-10 — but the game was pos­sible only be­cause the United Ser­vices Auto­mobile As­so­ci­ation paid the Fal­cons’ travel ex­penses.

“The reas­on “¦ this par­tic­u­lar game is pos­sible, when oth­er activ­it­ies have been can­celed, is that a very gen­er­ous private donor has provided the funds for the travel and lodging of just the foot­ball team, just the bare bones,” John­son said last week. “It’s only the team. I’m not go­ing, the cheer­lead­ers aren’t go­ing.”

There is no word yet on wheth­er the Fal­cons will host the San Diego State Aztecs this Thursday, as planned.

Chris­toph­er Snow Hop­kins

Stuck in Limbo

Rosa Van Wie, 23, has $87 in cash and $2 in her bank ac­count.

“I lived with my par­ents this sum­mer and saved up enough to cov­er two months’ rent,” she said. “That, and my grandma gave me $100.”

She’s bal­an­cing car pay­ments and $20,000 in stu­dent-loan pay­ments by selling painted sea­shells at a mar­ket near her ho­met­own in Maine.

“I made $15,” she said. “But, yeah, feed­ing my­self is tricky.”

When she got a job of­fer to work at a preschool for aut­ist­ic kids, she was ec­stat­ic. But the next day, the gov­ern­ment shut down.

“Right now, they don’t have enough staff,” Van Wie said. “I prob­ably would have star­ted this week.”

She can’t start un­til the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment re­opens and com­pletes her back­ground check. She’s been without a job since mid-Au­gust, when she wrapped up a stint at a sum­mer camp. Wan Vie says she loves her two sen­at­ors from Maine but is frus­trated with Con­gress — es­pe­cially tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans — for act­ing like “little chil­dren.”

“I nev­er really thought they would do this,” Van Wie said.

Mean­while, the preschool is work­ing on a state back­ground check, con­tact­ing places where Van Wie pre­vi­ously worked. She’s filling out more pa­per­work, and hopes she might be able to start next week.

“It’d be really nice to get a paycheck soon.”

Clara Rit­ger

Moun­tain Re­treat

Like thou­sands of gov­ern­ment work­ers, Lisa Jen­kins is fa­cing some un­ex­pec­ted time off be­cause of the shut­down, but she isn’t let­ting it go to waste. She and her hus­band, Scott, are restor­ing a his­tor­ic home in Front Roy­al, Va., that they plan to con­vert in­to a bed-and-break­fast.

“It needed a lot of work. It was kind of a stretch for us in terms of buy­ing and fix­ing it up,” said Jen­kins, who works in IT for the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency. But a long shut­down could put some of that work on hold. “We’re really re­ly­ing on our con­tin­ued in­come,” she said.

Jen­kins, 54, who has been at EPA for 23 years and ex­per­i­enced the shut­downs in 1995 and 1996, doesn’t be­lieve the cur­rent work stop­page is ne­ces­sary. “There’s just no pre­ced­ent for ty­ing the budget to any­thing else,” she said.

She used the time off dur­ing the ‘90s to com­plete an ad­op­tion, but now Jen­kins says she’s heard from older fed­er­al em­ploy­ees “that they are less likely now to whole­heartedly en­cour­age young­er people to enter the fed­er­al ser­vices.”

Jordain Car­ney

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