Mountains Of Work Await Furloughed Workers

Oct 16, 2013

Federal employees in Washington state and across the US who have been furloughed since Oct. 1 would return to work soon if Congress signs off on a budget deal. The Washington Post reports that employees should return to work the day after the partial government shutdown ends.

KUOW spoke with Cami Grandinetti, Superfund program manager for EPA Region 10, and Lora Cora, regional counsel for EPA Region 10. Both furloughed, they came in KUOW's studios to answer phones for the fall pledge drive on Wednesday.

The following are their personal views; they do not speak on behalf of the EPA.

“It's Not A Paid Vacation”
Grandinetti:

Vacations are something you plan. They’re something you budget for and you get to go do something.

This has been day to day of not knowing: Are you are going to go back to work, is there going to be a deal — hoping that there is a deal, that we can get back to work — wondering about the work that we're not doing and what will be the repercussions.

The uncertainty is really difficult.

Cora:

We personally put off a vacation we were going to take in November. It’s really up in the air. We’re feeling out what we can do for the holidays. All of our family lives on the East Coast and we really don’t know if we’ll be able to go back there.

We had a little breakfast the other morning of EPA employees, and two people there are in the middle of buying homes. They’re really uncertain if the banks are going to make an issue or if they’ll be able to close on time.

Long-Term Impacts
Grandinetti:

We haven’t been out inspecting. We haven’t been out looking at facilities. You know, is anything going to happen in the two to three weeks or however long this lasts? Maybe not but it’s really uncertain what the long-term impacts will be of not having that kind of oversight or regulation. It does mean that work will get delayed or that things will have been missed.

Cora:

Psychologically this has been very stressful on the individuals that it’s impacted but I also feel like it’s reverberated far more out into society. Because we were sequestered and had those furlough times, I think my co-workers are just feeling like we’re just political pawns.

A Blow To Morale
Grandinetti:

We do really care about the work that we do and the message that comes to us from D.C. is, "Well, it’s not really that important and we can put it off for a while." That’s hard.

Cora:

We [the EPA staff] are some of the few people who say, "I love my job. I love what I do. I feel good about it."

But it’s becoming harder with this external controversy and just feeling like we’re this football in the congressional stalemate. I’m really concerned we’re not going to be able to attract qualified people to do this. It’s seems like it’s all about how bad government is.

Getting Back To Work
Grandinetti:

The good news/bad news with this is that mostly everybody that I work with has been furloughed so there won’t be e-mails from them. So, it’ll just be from external parties so it’ll make that sort of burden less. 

But then, you come back and you have to decide, how do I prioritize the work that’s been piling up? How do I figure out what needs the most urgent attention? How do you sort of re-engage in day-to-day business? That will just be difficult for everybody I think.

The budget crisis cycles we’ve been going through are really inefficient and really hard to manage. So, I would suggest that we get in a better path in that way and we not let this happen again. This is far more important than just the government employees who’ve been temporarily furloughed. This has impacts that could go around the world; and I really hope that they [Congress] figure it out.