Recent stories in both the Washington Post [Is a Government Shutdown Ahead?] and the Washington Times [GOP: Lift drilling ban or risk shutdown] make me think that my fellow civil servants and I should be preparing for another long shutdown of the federal government. With the 2008 election coming to a head at the same time we have tight partisan gridlock in the Congress and a lameduck President, the political stars are coming into alignment for a shutdown that will rival the one of November 1995-January 1996.
In 1995/96, I had to continue coming to work during the government shutdown because I was then a contractor employee, so my salary was already paid. It was a lonely existence, just a handful of us contractors, plus a few essential State Department staffers, roaming around an otherwise empty office building. No phones rang, no taskings came in, and the streets around our Rosslyn office annex were almost as deserted as Manhattan in I Am Legend. But the loneliness had its compensations; we had abundant free time, no crowds in the restaurants for our extra-long lunch hours, and all the parking spots we could possibly want.
This time around, I'm looking forward to a few weeks off. My plan is to do a little substitute teaching to keep reasonably busy, and catch the fall schedule of performances at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Life will be good.
As a government contractor during the 95-96 shutdown, I was actually an employee of a private sector company, and was fully accustomed to having no job security whatsoever. But most of my direct-hire fellow government workers had never experienced a lay-off, and I noticed that the least suggestion they might, just possibly, by some huge stretch of the imagination, not get their next paycheck sent them into a panic.
To my fellow bureaucrats who haven't been through a shutdown before, I say: don't worry, be happy! You've never missed a paycheck before, and you won't now. That's simply not how the USG operates. Besides, does anyone remember what happened on the very first work day after the shutdown was resolved in January 1996? It snowed in Washington, and government offices were closed yet again. Sweet!!