After government shutdown, agencies' worth determined by essential personnel

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 | 6:30 p.m. CDT
Mike Fetters affixes a closed sign on a door on Nov. 19, 1995, at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington as parts of the federal government were shutdown due a federal budget impasse between President Clinton and the Republican Congress. Moments later, the sign was taken down and the museum opened as all Smithsonian museums in Washington were told from their headquarters to stay open until further notice.

WASHINGTON — NASA may have the "Right Stuff," but it's not essential.

In fact, of all the larger government agencies, NASA is sending the largest percentage home in the government shutdown because they are considered not essential.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which usually doesn't grab attention unless something goes wrong, has one of the highest percentage of workers considered essential and staying on.

In a city where being essential is considered as fundamental as breathing, the essential workers number is the real indicator of importance — politically and otherwise.

It's the essential number on being essential.

"It tells you who has juice and who can protect their workers," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. "It is an indicator of who is popular, who is homecoming queen, who is homecoming king and who is coming in last."

NASA comes up last.

Only 3 percent of its workers are essential. The space agency doesn't have a launch scheduled until November. The space shuttle has been retired for a couple of years. The phrase, "The Right Stuff," showing astronauts' can-do spirit dates to a movie and book that are at least 30 years old.

The space agency, which turned 55 on the day it essentially shut its doors, took seriously the threshold of only using workers protecting life or property, so "it doesn't mean (NASA) isn't important by any stretch," agency spokesman Bob Jacobs said Monday before he was deemed nonessential.

In general, about 60 percent of the 2.1 million federal workforce is still working during the shutdown. But some not-so-loved federal agencies can't even muster 10 percent on the essential meter.

The Environmental Protection Agency, often a whipping boy for Republicans in Congress, has only 6 percent of its workers listed as essential. So does the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ever the decimal counters, the Internal Revenue Service has only 9.3 percent working during the shutdown.

On the low side of the essential ranking, you can find the departments of Education (10 percent), Treasury (18 percent), Interior (20 percent), and Labor (22 percent).

Even working in James Bond-type agencies doesn't give you more juice than the people who deal with planes, trains and automobiles — or even tomatoes.

About 30 percent of civilian workers in the nation's intelligence agencies are still working, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told Congress Wednesday. That's about the same as the Department of Agriculture but nothing compared with the 67 percent of Department of Transportation workers are still on the job.

The Department of Homeland Security with 86 percent and Department of Justice with 84 percent are in the homecoming court of the essential worker list.

Then there's the VA where 95 percent of employees are still on the job, and the Department of State. Unlike other agencies, State Department officials don't have an official percentage for how many of their workers are essential, but said Wednesday essentially none of the 77,000 employees has been furloughed.

"You cannot close a VA hospital. You can't do it politically. You can't do it for the good of the patient," Light said.

The whole essential ranking "is a little bit of 'Mean Girls' mixed in with 'The Right Stuff,'" Light said. "Only 'The Right Stuff' doesn't happen to be the space program."

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Corey Parks October 2, 2013 | 10:59 p.m.

75% of all Fed workers are still on the job. I would hardly call this a shut down or a stand still. The NPS came out today and said that they had direct orders from the WH to close the parks and museums immediately. My guess is that would piss more people off then closing a few offices in every department that is over bloated to begin with.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 3, 2013 | 4:01 a.m.


Took my every-other-day 2.5 mile walk [here, where I now live] Wednesday and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers have put up actual barracades to all entrances to camp sites: there's a person at each barracade, who lets present campers leave but stops anyone from entering.

But public parking lots used for cycling, running, jogging, walking trails (13 miles worth) aren't closed, and those folks are doing their thing as if there were no federal government, open or closed.

The marina has also been shut down. As I've questioned before, should Corps of Engineers be in the marina business in the first place?

The federal government is bloated? Corey, I'm shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that. I have lead a sheltered life. :)

Each of us who are or have been posting comments on a regular basis has (with the Missourian) a "profile," accessible by placing their first and last names in the search box located at the top right of the Missourian's home page. For reasons unkown, I've been unable to access yours.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 3, 2013 | 9:53 a.m.

Ellis, if you click on Corey's name in the comment above yours, you should be able to bring up his profile, which is basically limited to a person's comments I think.

(Report Comment)

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