Today I received my furlough notice from NASA. Since my job isn’t considered “excepted,” in other words, since no one will be injured or die if I don’t report for work, then I am to remain at home until recalled to work after the Congress passes and the President signs some sort of budget or continuing resolution to keep the government running. The fact that the government has shut down all non-essential operations should come as no surprise to anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock these last several days.
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?” I dare say there are not very many people out there who would take forced, unpaid days off and continue to work for the company that sent them home. Except at NASA. And, yes, if it weren’t so explicitly stated, I would be one who would continue to work on my NASA projects at home, on my own time, and without compensation. I am sure I wouldn’t be alone.
The government shut down has taught us a few things about our government. Despite their shut down, society still functions. Because of their shut down, hundreds of thousands are without pay, while hundreds of millions save on their tax dollars. NASA is not exempt from these furloughs, and while the general public is saving on their overall taxes, our space program is all but stalled.
Why should any of these people furlough their passions because of politics? If there's one thing this whole ordeal has taught me, it's that there are many people out there who are seeking passion in all the wrong places. All of these scientists and engineers are forced to take time away from what they love thanks to politicians. I don't know about you, but if I ever had someone tell me I couldn't do a job I'm passionate about because a politician failed to do their job, I would find a new place to work.
If there is one message we should take from this, it's that perhaps our trust to run these programs should not be placed in an inefficient government such as ours. Not to mention, while all of these people are essentially out of work with no pay, the politicians are all still getting paid. Getting paid to shut down everyone else's work and dreams. Perhaps it's time to take a serious look at where we're placing our trust.
We're all in this together. Let's stop letting someone else tell us what we can and cannot do.
E Pluribus Unum.