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DoD Furloughs Hurt Morale and Retention

sequestration-turkeys

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.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Todd says:

    The really sad part is, for some Conservatives your headline is a feature not a bug. Cutting spending and hurting morale of the lazy good for nothing government employees, that’s like a dream come true.

    I too am a federal civil service employee now. During the previous shutdowns and furloughs, I was relatively insulated as an active duty service member. This year though, as some Republicans again talk about shutting down the government (this time over climate change) I’ve already got an eye on my bank account, thinking about how I’ll swing it if I don’t get paid for a couple of weeks in October.

    Todd

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “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.”

    No doubt this is true.

    On the other hand, when similar financial and status burdens are applied to state and local governmental employees, such as teachers, it is met with at best silence and frequently cheering. In this Philly area, nearly all teachers have had:
    a. several years of no raises period, plus
    b. increased contributions for medical insurance and pensions, plus
    c. schools so inadequately funded that they feel the need to pay for supplies for their students out of their own pocket, plus
    d. loss of job security in the form of loss of tenure, plus
    e. loss of control over their teaching due to “teaching to the test”.

    And yet, we hear plenty of calls to get rid of the deadwood to permit motivated young teachers to come in. Exactly who is foolish enough to go into a profession under these circumstances?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: School teachers are a different case entirely, with a whole host of different issues. I’m frustrated about a whole host of things about the way we train, select, and retain teachers. I don’t think pay and security are the main obstacles to recruiting and retaining quality people to the field, though. Rather, it’s the education cartel, lousy training and mentoring, and the sheer lack of autonomy. In short, schoolteachers aren’t professionals in a real sense and they’re not treated like professionals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  4. rudderpedals says:

    Norquist was wrong. The country is worse off having bathtub drowned the people who made government work properly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think pay and security are the main obstacles to recruiting and retaining quality people to [public school teaching], though. Rather, it’s the education cartel, lousy training and mentoring, and the sheer lack of autonomy.

    And you base those opinions on…?

    From the public school teachers I’ve known, the issues (and the things that drive them out of teaching) are:

    1. The pay.
    2. Impotence in the face of disruptive students.
    3. Administrative games related to ‘objective’ evaluation of school performance. These include not just being forced to teach to the test, but also things like putting hopeless students in advanced classes (like Physics or Calculus) where low grades don’t count against the school’s overall score.

    I don’t know what you mean by “the education cartel”. If you mean “teacher unions”, I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s considered a problem by new teachers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: The pay is good, if not outstanding, for people having nothing more than a bachelors degree in the least competitive discipline offered by most universities and who only report to work 180-odd days a year.

    By the “education cartel,” I refer to the whole system that requires getting a degree in the lackluster “education” field, is managed by those with degrees in education administration, and sucks the autonomy out of the teaching profession.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  7. Franklin says:

    Slate just had an article yesterday or the day before that what we should be doing is more stringent selection and training of teachers. Essentially, making them professionals as James says.

    Aside from improving the quality of teachers without having to fire them, such a policy might actually get teachers the respect they deserve from Republicans. (Okay, okay, that will probably never happen from certain subsets.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Franklin says:

    @James Joyner:

    who only report to work 180-odd days a year.

    Sorry, had to downvote you for that. Although it’s hard to find unbiased information here, I think it’s true that most teachers have to report for several weeks during the summer. Furthermore, it seems that you’re intentionally downplaying their work hours by only considering when they actually report at school, ignoring lesson planning, mandatory continuing education, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  9. @Franklin:

    Furthermore, it seems that you’re intentionally downplaying their work hours by only considering when they actually report at school, ignoring lesson planning, mandatory continuing education, etc.

    Yes, because no one but teachers ever has to put in a lot of unpaid work hours at home.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  10. Grewgills says:

    @James Joyner:

    The pay is good, if not outstanding, for people having nothing more than a bachelors degree in the least competitive discipline offered by most universities

    Around here starting teacher salaries are around 32k. I don’t know anyone who would consider that outstanding pay.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. @Grewgills:

    1.) 32k per year is the median income in this country. It’s not outstanding, but it’s not horrible either

    2.) That’s starting salary. Why would the starting salary for any job be outstanding? What’s the median salary after 5 years?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Wow, there’s an overreaction to something I didn’t even say.

    My point is, James is trying to imply that teachers work WAY less than everybody else. But depending on the study (I’m having a hard time finding an unbiased one), it appears they may work less overall hours in a year, but not by much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  13. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    32k per year is the median income in this country.

    Or 51k, but who are you going to believe? The Census Bureau or some random comment on the Internet?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. @Franklin:

    51k is median household income. 32k is median individual income.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Grewgills says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    It is the median individual income, but it is not the median income of someone with a college degree and additional accreditation. It is far from ‘outstanding’.
    Teachers are not the only ones that work (many) hours beyond those spent in office, but of the occupations that do spend those (many) extra hours, their compensation is low. It is one of the (many) reasons I left secondary education.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. @Grewgills:

    That because it’s a STARTING SALARY. If you judged engineers by my starting salary, we’d look underpaid too.

    Median individual income for persons with a bachelor’s degree or more: $50k
    Median individual income for secondary teachers: $55k

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “. I don’t think pay and security are the main obstacles to recruiting and retaining quality people to the field, though.”

    I’m wondering what your opinion is based on. Have you ever actually asked a teacher about this? Because teachers are generally not stupid people, and they understand the simple truth that you have somehow decided applies to military employees but not them — a worker is valued exactly as highly as he or she is paid. You want teachers to be considered professionals? Pay them that way.

    But instead you blame this fantasy of the “education cartel,” which is what the corporate shills trying to privatize education say when they’re trying to convince us that the way to have great schools is to pay teachers less and give them less autonomy, while hugely enriching a new set of CEOs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. wr says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “That because it’s a STARTING SALARY. If you judged engineers by my starting salary, we’d look underpaid too.”

    Uh-huh. And where do you top out? Same place a teacher does?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Median individual income for persons with a bachelor’s degree or more: $50k
    Median individual income for secondary teachers: $55k

    Of course, the flip side of this is:

    Median importance of teachers to future American prosperity: high
    Median importance of other bachelors-or-more jobs: low

    Any economist not in the clutches of an Ideology knows that free markets suck at distributing resources across long time horizons. When society decides collectively how well to compensate teachers, the consequences show up two generations later. If you look back over US history, the relative compensation of primary and secondary teachers has been declining steadily. Add to that the (laudable) opening of the job market to women, and the net impact on teaching has been catastrophic. I don’t want teachers who are slightly more capable than the average car salesman, middle manager, or cubicle denizen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. @DrDaveT:

    Median importance of other bachelors-or-more jobs: low

    Really? Doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists, etc. Not important. Teachers are important though. Because we need to teach people. Why we need to teach them, no one knows, since apparently no one else actually learns anything important.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  21. Matt says:

    @Stormy Dragon: How do you get those doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. James Joyner says:

    @Matt:

    How do you get those How do you get those doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists??

    They’re trained by other doctors, engineers, scientists, and journalists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  23. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “They’re trained by other doctors, engineers, scientists, and journalists.”

    And why would those other doctors, engineers, scientists and journalists do so, if they can earn more money and be treated as professionals by working as doctors, engineers, scientists, etc.? If (as generally accepted) we are well into the transition into a world where knowledge and skills are the key to lifetime employment, by paying the people who teach that knowledge and skills poorly and treating them as commodities not professionals, we are ensuring the next generation will be less employable, with fairly obvious effects on the future economy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “Rather, it’s the education cartel, lousy training and mentoring, and the sheer lack of autonomy. ”

    Please note that your sentence contradicts itself (and also the sentence afterwards).

    Breaking the teachers’ unions would lead to worse training, worse mentoring, less autonomy and in general being treated less professionally.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “…and who only report to work 180-odd days a year.”

    I was that ignorant of what teachers did, until I was visting the house of two teachers on a Sunday evening, and saw their dining room table covered with a foot of writing.

    Which they had to grade by Monday AM.

    Of course, I was 15 at the time, so my ignorance can be excused.

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  26. Barry says:

    @Franklin: “Slate just had an article yesterday or the day before that what we should be doing is more stringent selection and training of teachers. Essentially, making them professionals as James says.”

    Don’t worry, I’m sure that cutting pay, benefits, autonomy, working conditions, and making them vulnerable to being fired for teaching things like biology (‘lies from the pit of Hell’) will attract the sort of elite professionals that we need.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Barry says:

    @Stormy Dragon: “Really? Doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists, etc. ”

    Add up doctors, engineers, scientist and journalists, throw in nurses, and you still have a teeeeeny minority of bachelor degree holders.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. @Matt:

    My complaint was not the suggestion that teacher are important, but the ridiculous suggestion that everyone else isn’t important.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Matt says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Well one could look at the fact that one teacher is responsible for hundreds of students a year and say there is a bit more importance in getting that right.

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