Monday, April 11, 2011

Do Your Job--Go To Jail

Here's a juicy tidbit from the near-shutdown of the federal government. The Democrats moaned and groaned about how the Republicans were jumping for joy over a possible shutdown. More importantly, they pulled out the harps and violins about how awful it would be for federal employees not to be able to do their jobs and collect their wages. The lack of federal employees would produce an apocalypse of cascading horrors.

No thinking Democrat would ever want federal employees to cease serving the American people. It would cause unbelievable chaos, they told us. Granny would end up being thrown out into the snow. Innocent children would starve. Women would have to skip Planned Parenthood and go straight to the back alley for their abortions. Oh, the humanity! And all because those federal workers wouldn't be at their desks on Monday morning.

So we can be sure that the Democrats from Community-Organizer-In-Chief Barack Obama down would do everything in their power to make sure the finely-tuned wheels of the federal bureaucracy would keep whirring even during a shutdown. By any means necessary, as they are wont to say. Well, maybe not.

During the last few days of the looming shutdown, there was a flurry of activity from the Obama administration giving orders to the federal employees. On April 7, a memo went out from Jacob Lew, Director of the Office of Management and Budget. It was very clear. Federal employees caught working from home to keep up to speed during the shutdown would not go unscathed for their lack of cooperation with the real agenda of the Democrats. Exploit this crisis to the hilt, and leave no federal employee behind. "All federal employees are prohibited pursuant to Section 124, Circ. A-11 of the Anti-Deficiency Act after midnight Friday from working remotely, such as from home, including by accessing agency information (e.g. Blackberries, cell phones, computers and laptops)." He forgot to mention carrier pigeons, but you get the idea.

One federal employee under the promise of anonymity stated that her supervisor had told her that if she were discovered working at home, she would go to jail. That would be unlikely, but still there are criminal sanctions for violation of the Act. This all confirms the ramblings of Howard Dean, who said that a government shutdown would be the best thing in the world for Democrats. Or so he thought anyway. But keeping this out of the public forum was vitally necessary, so Obama and the gang made no public statements about how this would affect unionized government employees, a major source of voting and monetary support for the Democrats.

Hundreds of thousands of unionized federal employees would have been without work and without pay in the event of a shutdown. But it was also necessary that the Democrats put them out of work, prevent them from doing voluntary work, and blame it on the Republicans all at the same time. It was quite a tightrope walk, and we'll probably never be sure whether or not it would have worked. But for pure cynicism, "do your job, go to jail" is up there in the top tier of dirty Democratic tricks.

27 comments:

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, to play devil's advocate for a second, is it possible this rule was already in effect from a previous administration, and the government had no choice but to enforce it? (And frankly, given your average unionized public employee, I don't think anyone has to worry about them working while not getting paid.)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Yes, the rule first went into effect in the 1930s and has been a rule ever since. I dealt with it personally in the 1990s, as did other people I knew. All Obama has done is to send out a refresher -- which is something they did before the last shutdown too so that managers couldn't pretend they didn't know about the rule and then demand that employees come to work when they had been declared non-essential and were not actually guaranteed they would be paid.

Basically, this all goes back to a law that prevents people from giving free stuff to the government -- which is called an "illegal supplementation." It's aimed at stopping graft and coercion because it's very hard to tell whether something is actually given voluntarily or if it is being given as part of a quid-pro-quo.

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: Well, I guess Andrew already answered the question (see above).

BevfromNYC said...

But would we really have been able to tell if our Federal workers WEREN'T working? I know even when they ARE working it's hard to tell...umm...except for the IRS, they are the bestest, most hardest workingest group of Federal employees ever!

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: That is indeed the law and its original form goes back to the 30's. The intent of the law is quite different from the implementation of it this time. The intent was to keep federal employees from working for free or developing an expectation of future payment for the work they did in the interim between shutdown and reopening.

This application was to keep employees from "volunteering" their time to keep things up-to-date for an easy transition back to paid work after a short potential shutdown.

As usual, the Obama administration discovers the "letter of the law" when it suits them, and the rest of the time do what's convenient for them. The threat of criminal action by supervisors against their underlings is typical of the strong-arm tactics of the Obama administration. But the main point here was that this was backroom threats designed to "comply with the law" in order to blame the law while drawing attention away from the fact that the federal employees (and their unions) would be seriously impacted by a shutdown.

The intent of the law and its current implementation have very little to do with each other. Using the law for political purposes is hardly unknown, but that doesn't make it any less smelly.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: And that's a major part of the point of the article. It's bad enough we pay them for poor performance when they're supposed to be working. It would be worse if they did poor work during the shutdown and then expected to get paid for it. That is the original purpose of the law.

The bureaucracy, the unions, and the Obama administration needed those disgruntled low-performers to think that they were somehow being punished so that they didn't notice how many of them would actually have been put out of work, unpaid, by the Democrats' recalcitrance to recognize fiscal reality. Union bigwigs would continue to rake in their big bucks, but the employees they are supposedly protecting would have been caught in the trap of the shutdown that they wanted to blame on the Republicans.

T_Rav said...

Ah, okay. I guess I have my answer. Still, like you, I am annoyed that the administration is suddenly so stringent about following the law when it helps their agenda--which is a common thing for people to do, but it's still manipulation.

rlaWTX said...

Things like this... I just want to bang my head against a wall!!

Now, for a off-topic moment...
T_Rav - my undergrad (16 yrs ago) was history, with the plan of teaching college... but after my BA life got in the way. If I could have a chance of getting a job with it, I would have pursued Pol Sci or History in my "new life", but reality is a hard task master. An LPC has a good chance of a paycheck.
I wish you well with the History degree. 8 years ago, I was reading about folks who couldn't get a good job teaching at the college level because the geezers wouldn't retire or die. If you were lucky and lived near multiple Universities (like DC area), you might manage to cobble together enough classes to eat on. Made me kinda glad life bumped me off the original path.

rlaWTX said...

oh yeah, on taxes -- it looks like we tend to appreciate a nice round 10%.
if it's good enough for God...

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: I guess we can chalk it up to what can be done and what should be done. At the top level, they did what the law required, pro forma. At every other level, there was an unusual amount of "complying with the law," apparently with a little additional supervisorial "incentive."

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: Interesting change in the times. My BA was in history, MA in political science. But what was different in those days was that if you wanted to attend most major law schools, a "pre-law" major was unacceptable, and accounting was questionable since it was too black-and-white. There was no such thing as an actual pre-law curriculum, and what did exist was considered appropriate for law enforcement candidates, but not for future lawyers. Along with philosophy, those were the top three "best" majors for law school. The idea was that they taught you to think, not to memorize. Today, you would have to add accounting as a prime preparer for law school since it's all about "damages" and very little about the law. I actually originally intended to teach history, not to go into the practice of law.

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: After sweating over my income tax forms, 10% is sounding really good to me. And when I give my 10% to the church, I feel good about it. Giving anything to the federal government just depresses me at the moment.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, don't worry, I'm sure that if the law requires something they don't like, they'll be equally careful to observe its requirements. Not.

rlaWTX said...

I considered law school, but I lived with a friend during her 1st 2 quarters at Baylor Law. I changed my mind!
(she was our valdictoran, her very first B in her whole life was 2nd quarter - very dramatic... but she was also very driven; I am NOT!)

T_Rav said...

rlaWTX, you probably made a smart decision. I should have my History M.A. in about a month, and then it'll be on to the Ph.D. Like LawHawk, I plan to teach when I get through (though I strongly doubt I'll end up becoming a lawyer), but how well that'll turn out is anybody's guess.

I could write a very long essay on all the things that are wrong with the field today, including college history courses themselves and how historians go about their work, but for now I'll limit myself to saying that the problem you noticed is still in effect. The scarcity of job opportunities for people in my position is still chronic, but it's not just the octogenarians hanging around the Department. There are a glut of people with postgraduate degrees, and the field simply isn't big enough to handle them all. It's no one's fault, exactly; blame the mentality that says there's no such thing as too much education. Increasingly, a B.A. in history isn't enough, and there's precious few jobs for those of us with just an M.A. We're getting into a situation where those of us with postgraduate degrees are trapped: there's not enough of a market at the universities, museums, or think tanks for us, and for most other jobs, we're way too overqualified. All too often, the only realistic course is as a lecturer/instructor (not a big deal for me because I don't care about research projects, but there's little job security), or to take a job at the community college level. Which isn't bad, but with all the Ph.D.'s headed that direction, they're beginning to treat those institutions as regular universities--history teachers there have to research and publish, for example. And that's not what those schools are for.

In short, the history discipline is no better now than it was in yours or LawHawk's time, and I don't think the current system is sustainable. It's not a good idea to apply one department's problems to all the rest, but I think we could see a sea change in higher education in the near future. With so many people going through it, it was inevitable that the value would decline, and it's starting to show.

StanH said...

I remember back in ’95 in my office hearing that, “hallelujah the government shutdown is coming to an end,” and being truly disappointed, the same was true for my business associates as well. Government to me are like teats on a boar-hog…useless. And though I’m not displeased with the latest result, being a pragmatist, I am disappointed they didn’t shut the beast down for a while, the gnashing of teeth on the left is worth the price of admission…great fun.

Tennessee Jed said...

How do you spell Democrat? D-E-V-I-O-U-S

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: Amen! Observance of the law is extremely selective in this administration, and just for fun, they occasionally spit in the face of the law just to see what they can get away with.

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: I shoulda stopped when I was ahead. I did very well in law school, but somehow real property flummoxed me. I withdrew and took it again the next semester, and with an instructor who could talk in terms of contracts and other areas of the law, I A'd it. They fired my original instructor because too many of his otherwise top-notch students were failing his course.

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: Believe it or not, even at UC Berkeley in the 60s, instructors were leftist but didn't teach only their own view and didn't punish students who could defend their opposing positions. I disagreed with nearly everything my 19th Century German history instructor said, but got a good grade anyway. She did have one really good quote that I've never forgotten, describing Germany as the locomotive of the 19th century, roaring down the tracks with no engineer and no brakes.

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: I suppose I should also add that in those days, Western Civilization was required for everyone, even those who would be majoring in the sciences.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: There are a few and vitally important things the federal government should be doing. The other 95% is either nonsense, make-work, or an actual interference in the workings of a constitutional federal republic.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: And now that I'm done with my taxes, it's T-U-M-S.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, they still sorta teach Western Civ, but through whatever leftist prism they want. For example, last week I had to tell the students about how Lenin got it right, that imperialism was really the final stage of capitalism, etc etc. I didn't actually tell them that, of course; I had to stick to the main plan but omitted any positive statements about the Bolsheviks. But the fact that that ideology's being emphasized should tell you plenty about the state of our college courses today.

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: Berkeley's nemesis Stanford eliminated the Western Civilization curriculum almost two decades ago. "Too ethnocentric." They did that about a decade after their sports mascot ceased to be the Stanford Indian and became the Stanford Cardinal (referring to the color not to the bird).

I don't envy you trying to explain to poorly-educated students that the imperialism portion of Marxism as interpreted by Lenin had some validity for all the wrong reasons. So trying to explain how Marx and Lenin could be wrong but get that right must be torture. Far too subtle for the Cliff's Notes generation. At least my generation didn't come to the universities with our heads already full of Marxist "truths" that could not be disputed.

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, it's definitely a crapshoot. Explaining the nuances of Marxism-Leninism and its flaws to 19- and 20-year-old kids who don't have great attention spans is extremely difficult, especially when the profs aren't interested in critiquing it to begin with.

Frankly, Western Civ courses need a complete overhaul. The common pattern right now is to have three 50-minute classes a week, two of lecture and one of discussion. So that's effectively 100 minutes a week, for 14 or 15 weeks at best, to get in an entire course: which is usually either Western Civ I (everything before the 17th century) or Western Civ II (everything after). In practice, it's impossible under those conditions to do much more than hit the highlights--forget about any depth. See why we have so many people ignorant of our history?

LawHawkRFD said...

T_Rav: I remember Western Civ taking up much of the first year and a healthy portion of our second year. Basics the first year, electives from a list the second. Of course I do realize that as history majors, we had greater requirements than non-history majors. The core requirement sounds much like what you described, but its purpose was to give the general overview so that in your second year, you could pick the areas that interested you the most.

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