Because I enjoy, at least for the time being, the freedom of writing as an anonymous blogger (but see footnote), I have not provided many specifics about my personal life, outside of my multiple sclerosis diagnosis and related goings-ons. I will, however, say this: I am one of those 800,000 federal employees who are now furloughed, thanks to (as one friend put it) “CongressCritters comporting themselves like the Hatfields and the McCoys.”
Thankfully, I still have health insurance during the shutdown, which is good, given that my Copaxone prescription will soon need to be renewed. The arrangement is that when the U.S. government decides to get back to work, all the health insurance premiums that I would have paid during the shutdown will all be taken in one swell foop from the first paycheck that I get once back on the job. And if there’s not enough paycheck to cover all that? Well, guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it (and try to fit in as many follow-up doc appointments before then!)
Truthfully, here’s the deal as I see it: while my job is important, it is not essential. My work does not directly save lives or protect property. What my federal agency does do is to help maintain the U.S. as a leader in science and technology, to bring new technologies to every day usage that enhance our lives, to strengthen international relationships through scientific partnerships (for example, my program operated out of New Zealand this summer, and has European partners), and to enable humanity to see beyond this third rock from the Sun into the vast expanse of the cosmos. Essential to life? Definitely not. Enriching and inspiring lives across the globe? Absolutely.
Despite several challenges, including a negative view of federal employees by a large fraction of the U.S. public, the fact that civil servants are often the first in line to take the brunt of financial crises (my salary has been frozen for the past 4 years, without a single cost-of-living pay raise that has been enjoyed by contractors who work side-by-side with me), and the fact that our salaries are often considerably less than contracted colleagues doing the same work, most of my civil servant co-workers have an optimistic, let’s-see-how-we-can-make-this-work team spirit, and are open to making personal sacrifices for the greater good. Likewise, I remind myself, every day, what a privilege it is to serve the taxpaying community through the work that I do, and I don’t take a second for granted.
But for now, I must resist sneaking a peek at my work-associated email account, or working on a technical document, or figuring out a good way to display performance metrics (some of the things that were keeping me busy right up until the new fiscal year rollover on Oct 1). Get this: it is illegal for me to do any government-related work during the shutdown. That’s right — I could be sent to the big house for just looking at an equation the wrong way!
Here’s hoping that this post will be the last of the furlough-related entries. But given the unconciliatory tones in D.C., I’m not holding my breath.
**footnote: while I have said nothing of my blog to anyone who knows me, I have the uncanny sense that StarMan somehow is aware of it. He plays like he doesn’t know about it, and I play like I don’t know that he knows. This little game of charades works, for now. The bigger question is, how the heck does he get his intel?! I live with either a spy or an alien (or perhaps both!)