I had cause to travel this past week. As I entered Roanoke’s airport I passed through security staffed by people who, at that time, were not being paid for their work. Likewise, I knew the plane I was traveling in would be watched over by air traffic controllers who, likewise, were receiving no pay for the work they performed. At that time, more than 800,000 federal workers were either working without pay or not working at all. As I passed through security checkpoints that day, I thanked the workers for their service, and I write this post out of respect for them.
Getting the Work Done – No Matter the Circumstances
Along with TSA agents and air traffic controllers, I knew there were firefighters risking their lives out West, Coast Guardsmen patrolling the waters along our coasts, agents protecting our northern and southern borders, federal agents providing law enforcement, and Secret Service agents protecting current and past public officials - all of them doing so without pay. I also knew each of them had mortgages, medical bills, student loans, insurance premiums, and other responsibilities that didn’t stop even though their paychecks did. I have, on occasion, heard people deride the notion of a “public servant”—they get paid after all, they have nice pensions, they knew what they were signing up for, etc. If nothing else was proven by this most recent shutdown, then I hope it was the true dedication shown by these workers. How many people working outside of government would show up and perform their usual duties without pay? How many would go and pick up supplies at the food pantry as they travel to work without knowing when they will be paid again? If this isn’t conducting oneself as a public servant, then I am not sure what would qualify as such.
Working for a Cause
I have posted here on a number of occasions that I genuinely believe the best and most effective level of government is local government. At the local level, we don’t have the luxury of using shutdowns and temporary budget approvals to further political agendas. Rather, local elected officials promote their political ambitions and views through responsible governance and fiscal policies, and they never do so to the detriment of those we all depend upon to protect and promote our health, safety, and welfare.
While I believe the local level of government remains the most effective, we must have a fully functioning federal government. Our country’s safety and prosperity depends on it and, as we saw these past weeks, so does the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of public servants who we depend upon to deliver a myriad of vital services.
A short reprieve has been granted–a small comfort I am sure to those who face the threat of the next furlough or period of work without pay. Let’s hope the results are better and more productive this time. In the meantime, I continue to thank and share my appreciation for those who came and did their job because it needed to be done, paid or not, and those who have been allowed to return to the work they do on our behalf. These are all indeed public servants!
- Bob Cowell