As the vast majority of Americans rushed to complete the purchase and delivery of gifts, then turned to celebrating both the religious and secular traditions of Christmas Day, some 800,000 employees of the nation’s largest and most inefficient bureaucracy were impacted by a partial government shut-down.

Curious as to the details and significance of this inability of our nation’s top leaders to play nicely with each other, I consulted various sites on the internet and the media.

Herewith, a random summary of my findings:

  • The federal government has about 2.1 million employees, of whom 800,000 were affected by this partial shutdown.
  • Of those 800,000, 380,000 were actually sent home without pay, while 420,000 were told to keep reporting to work, and to work without pay.
  • Most of those who continued to perform their work and get paid on time were either in jobs essential to public safety or whose agencies are at least partially funded by fees, such as the Postal Service. Some were employees of agencies with multi-year budgets. The armed forces were not shut down.
  • In prior shutdowns, employees have been classified as either “essential” or “non-essential.” That terminology always made me wonder why the federal government hires hundreds of thousands of people to perform non-essential jobs.
  • This time, the terms were changed to “exempt” and “non-exempt.”
  • In past shutdowns, those employees who were furloughed and those who were ordered to work without pay were paid retroactively as soon as the shutdown ended. Legislation to do so this time around was introduced even before the shutdown began. It is a rare case when Congress can act efficiently.
  • The president continues to draw full pay during a shutdown. His salary is protected by the Constitution.
  • Same for members of Congress.
  • And most presidential appointees continue to draw their pay.
  • The White House switchboard was shut down, with a recorded message saying that you can call your president when the shutdown is over.
  • The National Christmas Tree also was “shut down,” though for the life of me, I don’t know how you shut down a tree.
  • Some national monuments and parks were closed; others remained open.

(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He notes that the White House press office staff remained on the job, but he doesn’t know why. The president’s policies — stuff like decisions on waging war and firing of key White House leadership — are announced over his cell phone in 280 characters or less, not by his press staff. Whether exempt or non-exempt, his designated spokespersons are clearly non-essential.)

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