Shutdown update: We don’t need them!

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

Three stories today illustrate why the longer the government shutdown lasts, the more it will prove that almost every employee presently furloughed is entirely unneeded.

The first story is truly hilarious. Several “experts” lament the possibility that, because of the shutdown, some of NASA’s best scientists and engineers might leave the agency and get good jobs in the private sector. First of all, if they succeed in doing this all power to them. That’s what competition is all about. If they are that good and the private sector wants them, they should go.

Second, who says the private sector will want them? The article notes that the surge in commercial space now gives these employees options, but all those options are in the launch industry, and NASA’s track record there has been dismal, at best. Why would SpaceX want to hire an engineer who has been working on building a single manned Orion capsule for more than a decade, or the SLS rocket for even longer?

The second article illustrates how easy it would be to replace the National Park Service. If people care so much about these parks, they should volunteer to do something to keep them clean. I have already noted how the commercial vendors in the parks have begun paying for cleaning services formerly handled by the Park Service, but this responsibility can be picked up by the general public as well. (I speak from experience, as I spent my Sunday two weeks ago in a Forest Service cave, cleaning its formations of mud put there carelessly by visitors. Nor has this been the only time I have done this kind of volunteer work.)

The third article is an op-ed by an anonymous Trump official, describing quite accurately the uselessness of most government workers. (I consider this description accurate based on my own experience working in the government as well as almost all news stories I have read about government workers.)

The lapse in appropriations is more than a battle over a wall. It is an opportunity to strip wasteful government agencies for good.

On an average day roughly 15 percent of the employees around me are exceptional patriots serving their country. I wish I could give competitive salaries to them, and no one else. But 80 percent feel no pressure to produce results. If they don’t feel like doing what they are told, they don’t.

Why would they? We can’t fire them. They avoid attention, plan their weekend, schedule vacation, their second job, their next position, some do this in the same position for more than a decade.

They do nothing that warrants punishment and nothing of external value. That is their workday: errands for the sake of errands; administering, refining, following and collaborating on process. “Process is your friend” is what delusional civil servants tell themselves. Even senior officials must gain approval from every rank across their department, other agencies and work units for basic administrative chores.

Process is what we serve, process keeps us safe, process is our core value. It takes a lot of people to maintain the process. Process provides jobs. In fact, there are process experts and certified process managers who protect the process. Then there are the 5 percent with moxy (career managers). At any given time they can change, clarify or add to the process — even to distort or block policy counsel for the president.

Saboteurs peddling opinion as research, tasking their staff on pet projects or pitching wasteful grants to their friends. Most of my career colleagues actively work against the president’s agenda. This means I typically spend about 15 percent of my time on the president’s agenda and 85 percent of my time trying to stop sabotage, and we have no power to get rid of them. Until the shutdown.

Trump right now appears to be doing what I had hoped every previous Republican president had had the courage to do: Allow the shutdown to go on for as long as possible. Not only will it increase the chances Trump can get what he wants, he will clearly demonstrate the amount of waste that permeates our federal government.


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We are not done yet. This monthly fund-raiser is now half over, and I am hoping the second half will result in as many donations as the first half did. If it does, I will remain free to continue my writing as I see fit, unblemished by the efforts of others to squelch my perspective in this increasingly intolerant world.

This year's fund-raising drive is also significant in that it celebrates the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


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  • Kirk

    What is the situation with Coasties — not Coast Guard contractors or civilian employees, but active duty Coast Guard members? Have any been furloughed, or have all been called to work without pay? (Really delayed pay, yes, but if this stretches on much further I could imagine a lot of stress among career Coast Guard members with families to support and mortgages to pay. It’s not like they have the legal option of quitting prior to the end of their enlistment to seek a paying private sector job.)

  • Kirk: I don’t know what the specific situation is for Coast Guard members, but I must admit that I generally do not have a lot of heart left for sympathy for most government workers. They overall have done terrible jobs for the past few decades, and in every area they have been involved they have actually worked to make things worse, either by intention or incompetence. And as they have done this they have generally been paid about twice what ordinary taxpayers get, with far far far better benefits.

    Meanwhile, I have watched numerous friends struggle to find decent jobs in the private sector for the past decade. Often they have had to settle, and have suffered because of it.

  • David Lohnes

    Here is a “sky is falling” opinion piece about how the government shutdown is aiding identity thieves.

    After getting her identity stolen she is helpless. “Suddenly, I’m very interested in this problem, which can’t be resolved because the relevant government agencies, including the FTC, are shut down. The cobwebbed website says, “we will resume normal operations when the government is funded.”

    “Bottom line: Someone hacked into my Social Security account and changed my bank routing and checking account numbers to a Green Dot account that was probably created for that purpose. This means the thieves likely have a small book’s worth of information about me, both financial and personal. What might come next, and what should I do?”

    Well try a simple search of “what to do when your identity is stolen” and receive the same checklist that the FTC provides you on any of a number of sites. No, we need to make it seem like we are helpless without BIG government to babysit us.

    Surely Kathleen Parker knows better and probably even did the search above and found out what do when your identity is stolen. However she does a disservice to anyone who trusts her words and thinks that they are helpless until the government opens up.

    Here you go. Skip Step 5:

  • commodude

    The most pathetic piece I’ve seen was on Yahoo (though those normally go hand in hand). It was about a senior FAA admin who told his wife “$30 means a lot now”…. after his wife spent $30 on groceries.

    You’re making 6 figures and $30 is going to break you after missing one paycheck? If that’s truly the case, you deserve the situation you’re in.

  • wodun

    Did anyone care when regular people were getting their identities stolen by illegal immigrants? Government workers go along with these scams that defraud citizens.

    I don’t know much about it but our local paper was running fear articles about the shutdown. One of the headlines was that government workers were collecting unemployment. So, I think depending on the state and the job, government workers can get unemployment to help them out.

  • Orion314

    Hmm, Gvmnt “Worker” ? that means : “Sit on your can , do as little as possible, VOTE DEMOCRAT, and cash your paycheck.”.
    .Rinse and repeat.
    We are long past the point of tolerance and discussion, if you support the Democratic party. you need to be in jail, awaiting trial for sedition / treason. There is no greater threat than ANYONE who supports the DEMOCRATIC party..sorry if i wasn’t clear B4

  • wayne

    Good stuff.

    Julie Covington –
    Don’t Cry For Me Argentina

  • wayne

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb:
    “Skin in the Game”
    Google Talks November 2018

  • Phill O

    How about the congress shuts down? Without pay! Would we see any affect?

  • Andrew

    My sentiments exactly.

    I saw a report, probably a lie, or just wrong, that said 800,000 Federal Workers just missed their paycheck. Rush read a report that said, in spite all previous shut downs, no federal worker ever actually lost a paycheck, AND that this “so called” lost paycheck will get Reimbursed.

    800,000 federal workers? That is over twice as many people as actually LIVE in the State of Vermont. Leave them on unemployment. Let them do their 13 weeks, loose their unemployment bennies THEN get other jobs!

    Sadly, even if that many federal workers go away, at 80k on average per salary that will just barely DENT the ongoing deficit. Might do a lot to drain the swamp though.

  • wayne

    There are roughly 2 million federal employee’s, and only roughly 15-20% of those are directly effected, so yeah– considerably less than 800K.
    Forget unemployment, they haven’t been terminated, and besides we pay for that as well.
    (and… you need to add in benefits & pension to those costs, and union dues.)

  • mpthompson

    How many federal workers were hired after $1 Trillion was dumped into the federal budget after the stimulus bills in 2008/2009 and never rolled back? Seems we could easily roll federal government headcounts back to 2000 era levels and we would still have too many federal workers.

  • wayne

    A most excellent point!
    (we need to roll the head count, back to 1898!)

  • Kirk

    With respect to the various comments above regarding unemployment benefits:

    “Employees told to stay home can get jobless benefits, Labor Department says. But those required to report to work — even if not paid — aren’t eligible”

  • Kirk

    “Shutdown update: We don’t need them!”

    The administration disagrees. With tens of thousands of furloughed workers recalled this week, the number deemed essential and ordered to work without pay is now estimated to be 450,000 — more than half of the 800,000 directly affected by the shutdown.

  • Kirk: I would then say, based on this report, that at a minimum 350,000 federal employees should be removed from the payroll, immediately.

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