Over the past few days the term non-essential has been thrown about by anyone talking about the government shutdown. Most of the times it has been used it has been used to describe those who would be furloughed or services that would stop. I heard one person say that non-essential workers were those whom the Congress could put out of service with out paying too high of a political price for the decision. I thought it was interesting that some even thought that by furloughing the non-essential workers we were seeing the streamlined government that many hope for. This shutdown also meant that the National Zoo’s PandaCam would be turned off. (Doesn’t Congress know that a daily dose of cute is essential?)
As one who lives in the Washington metro area and has many congregants what are related in one way or another to the government I am keenly aware that much of what is being termed non-essential is actually highly needed if not “essential.” We could debate what government jobs are essential. “A Wall Street Journal review of agencies’ shutdown plans found that more than 818,000 workers would be furloughed. In all, the federal government employs just under 2.9 million civilian employees.” That’s a lot of work being done by good and honest people.
Last night, during a report on NBC4 in Washington, a furloughed worker who works downtown was being interviewed. He pointed to the iconic buildings around him and said, “People don’t realize how many good people are doing good things, right here.” This man wanted to remind us of the reality that there are two Washingtons. One that is on the filled with elected officials whom the country is clearly disappointed with.
(One poll conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that 51% of respondents are frustrated with Washington, while 26% are “angry” with the federal government)
The other Washington is made up of dedicated workers that often get a bad rap. Part of this is due guilt by association, but often it is due to the fact that many people have a view of federal workers as some nameless, faceless suit who moves pencils from one side of the desk to the other and draws a huge salary.
I am blessed to know and love many people who work directly or indirectly for the Federal Government. My experience is that most of them are so committed to their job that they struggle physically, emotionally and spiritually. They are not pencil pushers who don’t care. They work long hours, commute through the worse traffic possible and know things many of us would rather not. So I am pained when term non-essential is bandied about. I am concerned with the message we send to our dedicated men and woman in governmental service. Not to mention the fact that for many the financial concern of the shutdown seems to show no concern for their families. I am reminded that the words we use are important. When the shutdown is over, these dedicated public servants will return to their desks and go right back to work. Work that they are told is so “essential” that they often forgo vacations, family time and raises.
I pray that those who are in the middle of this political chess match will take heart in the fact that their work is truly essential. I also offer my heartfelt thanks to those who have chosen to dedicate their vocational life to serving our country. May this time of shutdown be short and the work they do be appreciated now and in the future.