Essential Government Personnel, Professional Military Education Edition
Earlier this week, I wrote that, “I would almost certainly not be impacted by a shutdown. Military schools have always been considered an essential service in the past and will surely be considered that again. It would be beyond idiotic to have hundreds of field grade officers sitting around Quantico getting paid for going to school while furloughing their civilian professors.”
In the absence of guidance, I defaulted to the operating assumption that logic would prevail. This morning, I got guidance: It will not.
So, if the government shuts down next week, here’s how the breakdown will go at the Command and Staff College:
- Essential: The Command and Staff College itself.
- Essential: Military students at the Command and Staff College.
- Unessential: Civilian students (i.e, those from the CIA and other government agencies) at the Command and Staff College.
- Essential: Uniformed military faculty at the Command and Staff College.
- Unessential: Civilian faculty at the Command and Staff College.
- Essential: The director, deputy director, and dean of students at the Command and Staff College, all of whom are uniformed military.
- Unessential: The dean of students and deputy director of administration at the Command and Staff College, both of whom are civilians (but retired lieutenant colonels).
Obviously, the only governing principle here is that government employees who happen to wear a uniform are “essential” whereas those who do not are “unessential,” even if they’re doing the same job.
On the one hand, I support the distinction. If we’re going to deem military personnel essential—and, clearly, we should—we shouldn’t penalize those who happen to be assigned as students or instructors in our institutions of professional military education. Most if not all of them have been deployed downrange during the last dozen years of high operations tempo, so it would be outrageous to deem them “non-essential” because of where they happen to be sitting when the music is turned off. On the other hand, to the extent that some government employees are more essential than others, it ought logically to be determined on the basis of function not form.
It’s particularly galling in the case of our civilian students. The taxpayer has already invested substantial money transporting them and housing them at the College. But, if the government shuts down and the situation does not resolve itself soon, they’ll soon be impossibly behind as they’re legally forbidden from doing the work. (They were told they may continue to do the readings, although my not-a-lawyer opinion is that this is not a given.) To add insult to injury, they’re essentially stuck in place while they wait for Congress to get its act together.
In my own case, it’s mostly annoying. Presuming the shutdown doesn’t last for weeks on end, the loss of pay will be a nuisance rather than devastating. That, obviously, will not be the case for everyone. In particular, the lower paid support staff could well find themselves unable to pay the mortgage if this goes on for long–particularly since they’ve already absorbed six furlough days this year.
In both my own case and I presume that of my academic colleagues, the prohibition against working while furloughed will be observed mostly in the breach. It’s not as if I’m going to cease reading material in my field. Indeed, freed from the need to commute to work and fulfill obligations at the office, I’ll likely read and almost certainly write more than I would otherwise.
Thankfully, the teaching structure at the Command and Staff College is such that the short-term impact on the uniformed military students will be relatively minor. Civilian academics teach completely different courses than our uniformed military counterparts (essentially, we teach history and political science and they teach leadership and operational planning) so the leadership will simply reshuffle the sequence of the curriculum. Presuming the civilian PhDs are back in the fold by the end of October, we’ll be able to salvage the semester.
Still, this is no way to run a railroad.