Two of the many stories about the shutdown I’ve run across mention NASA (because several of the people on my twitter and RSS feeds are in astronomy-related fields), so that’s a common thread, and makes the stories slightly more aligned with my own, as opposed to the people working at e.g. NIH.
What may come as a surprise to many is the following statement from the letter I received informing me of what I can and cannot do during the furlough: “During the furlough, you will be in a nonpay, nonduty status. During this time, you will not be permitted to serve NASA as an unpaid volunteer.”
How many federal agencies, for that matter, how many employers have to tell their employees “I’m sending you home without pay for an indefinite period of time and you are strictly prohibited from doing any work for the company/organization on your own time and without compensation?”
Before the actual shutdown, the threat of a furlough was a dank, dark cloud hanging over that work. It was hard to be hopeful about the future, knowing that at any minute we might all have to drop what we were doing and go home, for an unknown length of time. That hit a lot of folks very hard; they wanted to do their jobs. It wasn’t just worrying over paying the bills, it was actually not doing the work that had so many people upset.
The people at NASA are not alone in this, in terms of these circumstances and how they feel about it. Not that the articles are claiming this, mind you, but just in case one reads such stories and is tempted to think it’s an isolated case. Phil hits the nail on the head when he speaks of the dank, dark cloud, and how people really want to get the job done. Les mentions it in terms of unpaid time, and I have long suspected that many of my scientist, engineer and technician (and support staff) colleagues have worked more hours than went on the timecard, just because getting the job done, and done right, is important to them. I know scientists in other parts of the government who feel the same way. NASA may have some different rules in place, but there are parts of government where this rule about not volunteering your time is not limited to the shutdown — unpaid overtime is a no-no. I hope Les doesn’t get in trouble for admitting to doing it. I will neither confirm nor deny the fact that I’ve done so.
The admonition against volunteering your time, AFAIK, was boilerplate wording that would have gone to all workers. NASA wasn’t singled out for this. I’ve mentioned how the scientists want to work, but I see dedication with non-scientists as well, and that means when I see comments to the effect that we government workers are overpaid and pampered (hey, we already have healthcare! Luxury!), and so staying home “on vacation” is no big deal, it really chafes. Morale-killing moves like this will drive good people out of government service, sooner or later, especially younger workers who are not as invested in it. Professionals (i.e. those who have degrees beyond undergraduate work) typically can make more in the private sector, and why stick around (or join) with all this BS? The right complains the government is incompetent and this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if their antics succeed in driving the top talent out.