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Archive for March, 2013

The F-word

As you know, I moved to Washington, DC in November of 2012 to begin a new job as a civilian worker in the Department of Defense. That means, as of Friday, March 1, I am now one of those hundreds of thousands of government workers who will feel the effects of the sequester, barring any alternative resolution in the next 45 days (I’m not aware of any at this time). While I don’t wish to be too overly political in my blog, it would be inconscionable of me to not give due diligence to this subject, especially since this one is personal.

I’m sure you have your own political opinions about the size, nature, and purpose of the federal government. But I do believe there are fundamental issues with the income and outflow of Washington that urgently need to be addressed before we wreak more havoc on the coming generations. Sequestration, in my understanding, wasn’t meant to be an actual solution; however, for lack of agreement between members of Congress to do anything else, this relatively small forced spending cut (really just a brief slow-down of spending increase), supposed to be a threat so inconceivable it would motivate urgent action to prevent it, has become a reality.

While the scope of the cuts are indeed quite small, it is the way in which is it brutally implemented that is so dire. First, Congress has decided to squabble over personal crusades instead of taking care of basic day-to-day needs, so for the umpteenth time in many years they haven’t passed a budget for 2013. All government agencies are forced to limp along under the reduced budgets of a Continuing Resolution. On top of already strained operations came the sequester. Instead of targeted, intelligent reformation across the board, it indiscriminately slashes at one vital sector of the government: defense. Since Congress could not make a reasonable compromise to avoid sequestration, the DoD, already stymied under a continuing resolution, was forced to make a plan to somehow take this hit while still providing fundamental, necessary military service (though even that will be affected). The major way in which they have chosen to do this is implementing the F-word: furlough. Civilian employees will be forcibly given a 20% reduction in pay by mandating leave without pay for one day per week. This is not to exceed 22 days between the end of April and the end of the fiscal year in September, at which point the 22-day clock can reset again for the 2014 fiscal year, if it comes to that.

Keep in mind that, on top of this, the government is also set to run out of money (again) around March 27 and to hit the debt ceiling limit (again) in May. Government shutdown, anyone?

While there is a furlough plan and there doesn’t seem to be any current effort to change sequestration, that doesn’t mean it will ultimately come to any or all furlough days. At this point we’re all waiting to see what happens. I am incredibly thankful that, while annoying, we will not be hard pressed by the short-term prospect of reduced pay. However, if it were to be a long-term thing, it’s hard to say that continuing to live in DC on a reduced salary would be feasible. Say what you will about how overpaid government workers are, there is a reason for some of it: for the majority of government workers living in the District area, the cost of living is sky high and there has to be some compensation for them to even afford basic groceries, gas, and rent or mortgage. And while we will be okay at the moment, Lord willing, a lot of people I know will be in dire straits without their normal income.

In the vast scheme of things, the amount of money being cut really is small, hardly enough to solve actual budgetary issues. And blind hacking at one of your vital organs doesn’t strike me as the best way to perform life-saving surgery on the body of government. While I have my own personal opinions, I certainly don’t have the answer for how to solve things. I’m optimistic it can be done, but sometimes that optimism runs a bit thin. Regardless, I’m evidently stuck in the middle of it and left to make the best of it. Hey, at least with one day per week off during the summer, maybe I can hit some afternoon games with the Washington Nationals! 😉

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Obligatory disclaimer, just in case: These thoughts I have expressed are my own; I don’t intend to speak on behalf of the Department of Defense or government or Navy. So let’s be chill! 🙂

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This morning, Bart and I made our first casual trip downtown by ourselves. Our previous excursions to Federal City have been quick trips with friends, and it’s been awfully cold to just volunteer to walk around downtown. But today we ventured out to explore a bit.

In previous excursions, we had various reasons that required driving, which isn’t very fun (as I have described previously). This time, we hit the metro. We took a quick metro trip once immediately after we moved but haven’t had occasion to since. It’s definitely the most convenient way to get downtown, though, if you don’t for some reason need your car. While DC’s metro is a bit pricey (the fares are also scaled by peak vs. off times, but parking is at least free on the weekends), if you consider having to pay for parking in town, it’s not so bad. In anticipation of more trips into town, I ordered us some SmarTrip metro cards that give us a bit of a discount and provide the convenience of scanning and going, no standing at the automatic kiosk scratching our heads and trying to figure out how much the fare is from outlying stop on the Red line to the National Mall.

DC Metro

DC Metro

On this trip, we popped out literally one block from our first destination, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. I wouldn’t have thought to come here, but I found a Groupon deal on admission, and it seemed like a decent excuse to get downtown. We saw the wax effigies of many movie stars, athletes, and celebrities. The claim to fame here is the Presidents Gallery, where you can walk among the likenesses of all our nation’s presidents. Madame Tussauds encourages you to get up close and personal with their figures, so we got some pics with some of them. Here I am with the Gipper. Somebody tear down that wall!

The Gipper and me

All in all, it was fun and quirky, but I definitely wouldn’t have spent more than we did with the discounted tickets. It took us less than an hour to wander through. From there, we wandered a few blocks, coincidentally past Ford’s Theater.

Ford's Theater

Ford’s Theater

We had lunch across from the FBI building, and proceeded to the National Archives. There we saw the original founding charters of our nation: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (sorry, no photos allowed).

There’s something incredibly weighty and proud about reading the direct words of our founding fathers as they labored for decades to provide this nation with the best form of government possible to imperfect human beings. It gives you incredible respect for our democracy and makes you want to fight to maintain it. Or it should.

I can think of a few people who should maybe walk a few blocks west on Constitution Avenue from their workplace and gaze upon these documents again sometime.

We also saw an original Magna Carta from 1297, which was really spectacular, too. Then there were some exhibits on some of the many types of information housed by the national archive. One can go there and actually research through the billions of documents housed by the Archive, but that wasn’t within the scope of our day.

From there, we could have wandered some more, but it was ridiculously cold and we were a bit tired. We’ll save a lot more exploring for warmer weather. We hopped back on the metro and scooted back home, where we’ve actually been pretty productive. In fact, I tackled both of my goals of the week, so those are done (though talking to my friends is really an ongoing process :)). Bart and I even team cleaned the bathroom and non-wood flooring in the house. I hate cleaning.

All in all, a fun and productive Saturday by we the Taylors.

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