DoD Furloughs Hurt Morale and Retention
Did sending some of its workforce home without pay impact the work environment at the Defense Department? Duh.
Government Executive (“Yes, Defense Furloughs Hurt Morale and Employee Retention“):
Furloughs at the Defense Department last summer damaged the morale not only of the civilians who were sent home without pay, but members of the military, officials at three Defense sites told congressional auditors.
In addition to resulting in a roughly 20 percent reduction in weekly pay for six weeks, the furloughs created rifts within the Defense civilian workforce, since some employees received exceptions and others did not, and the decisions were not always consistent across the services, the officials told the Government Accountability Office. GAO interviewed representatives of Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois for the report (GAO-14-529), which looks at how the Pentagon implemented furloughs in response to sequestration.
For instance, the Air Force did not furlough its inpatient nursing staff, but the Army did, leaving the Army nurses in poorer spirits, officials at Brooke Army Medical Center noted. (The Air Force nurses were transferred to Brooke medical center as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process but management remained separate at the time of the furloughs).
At Norfolk, civilians in supporting commands were furloughed and experienced a decline in morale as their “civilian colleagues working in the shipyard were not only excepted but were also working overtime during the furlough period,” officials told GAO.
Rifts also opened between furloughed civilians and contract employees who did not take a pay cut during the furloughs, officials at the Air Mobility Command reported. In addition, the command furloughed some “civilians historically considered ‘mission essential,’” the officials noted.
The sites followed rules preventing them from using military personnel as substitutes for furloughed civilians, and “some officials stated that service members experienced a decline in morale as they worked longer hours to complete their missions in the absence” of the civilians, the report said.
It would be shocking, indeed, if the results were otherwise. Aside from the financial impact of the unpaid leave, a message was sent that some employees were more “essential” than others, even if they were working side-by-side doing the same job. Further, the vagueness of the law was such that different employees in the same circumstance were treated differently, creating further resentment.
Moreover, as I was arguing at the time, the more important impact was the breaking of the longstanding social contract with federal civil servants, who in many cases take a lower salary than they might command outside government in exchange for job security. Given that there’s no reason to think this was a one-off given the current political climate, that’s likely to have some of the best and brightest seeking employment elsewhere and outstanding prospects who might otherwise been inclined to work for the government to instead go elsewhere.
Note: Although I’m now a civilian employee of the Defense Department, I was still in the private sector during the furloughs last year; most of my colleagues were not so lucky. I did experience the brief effects of the end-of-fiscal-year government shutdown, but we were paid for that time.