New Hampshire Department of Defense employees receive furlough notices
Spc. Jen Boisvert takes a moment while standing for a portrait in her office at the New Hampshire National Guard's Concord Armory on October 1, 2013. Boisvert, 22, is one of 332 military technicians that have been furloughed as a result of the budget battle that has shut down the federal government. She has some money saved but just moved into a new apartment and is worried about being without work for too long.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Victim advocate coordinator Andrew Lasher stands for a portrait at the New Hampshire National Guard's Concord Armory on October 1, 2013. Lasher is one of the 332 military technicians that are on furlough as a result of the budget battle that shut down the federal government.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
The letter was just sitting there, right on the desk, right next to human resources Spc. Jen Boisvert’s elbow as she worked at her computer.
It was just a sheet of paper. Just one piece of paper, covered in neat lines of type.
But for Boisvert, the letter was a reminder throughout her workday that she wouldn’t be sitting at her desk today in the Concord office of the New Hampshire National Guard. The letter, delivered to her desk yesterday morning, notified Boisvert that she is now one of 332 civilian technicians furloughed from the state’s Guard because of the federal government shutdown.
She would work through the day. Then she would go home, and she would wait indefinitely for Congress to come up with an agreement that would allow her to come back to work.
“It’s a bit distracting,” she said, looking down at the letter.
The piece of paper, just sitting there, right on her desk, right next to her elbow.
Active duty U.S. military personnel are still on duty, and they are still being paid. But, as that letter informed Boisvert, many of the civilians who are employed by the federal government to support enlisted men and women are out of a job – and a paycheck – until Washington can agree on a federal spending budget. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel estimated 400,000 civilians employed by the Department of Defense would be placed on furlough as the shutdown began yesterday.
Boisvert is 22 years old. She wears an Army National Guard uniform to work. She just moved out of her parents’ house and has been paying rent in her first apartment in Manchester for a month. She has a Jeep, and the Jeep needs gas. She has a little bit of money saved up. But she didn’t see this coming.
“Once it sunk in, I had to think about it and think about my money situation,” Boisvert said.
Maj. Gen. William Reddel III, the state’s National Guard adjutant general, had to put his signature on that letter that was delivered to furloughed technicians across the state yesterday.
He didn’t like doing it. He said he doesn’t want civilian technicians in the National Guard to feel like second-class citizens compared with its active-duty members.
“The biggest thing that we can say to them is, ‘You’ve done an outstanding job, and you have done nothing wrong. Nothing in your performance warrants this kind of reaction from the United States of America,’ ” Reddel said.
Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn said furloughs will leave “a skeleton staff” in the Concord Guard facility, but about 1,760 active-duty guardsman and technicians do remain to support certain missions and respond to any emergency situations in the state. No one’s getting paid for right now, but they will receive their paychecks eventually.
“There will be certain services that we won’t be able to provide. For example, veterans coming in to get their IDs that they need,” he said.
First Sgt. Michael Daigle answered media questions about the shutdown yesterday, even as he awaited his own furlough notice. He said most operations will be running today, although short-staffed.
“We’re primarily curtailed, not closed,” Daigle said.
The last time around
During the last government shutdown in 1995 and 1996, furloughed federal employees also received their pay retroactively when they came back to work. There’s no guarantee that will happen again.
For right now, Heilshorn said the Guard is trying to let its furloughed employees know about resources such as the chaplain’s emergency relief fund, which could help them out of a tough spot financially.
Morale is going to take a hit because of the shutdown, he admitted, but the Guard will keep its employees updated as everyone waits for a resolution in Washington.
“Part of our job is to make sure that the soldiers and airmen know what’s out here for them, that if they run into difficulties that it’s not, ‘Hey, we’re sending you home. We’ll let you know when you can come back,’ ” Heilshorn said. “It’s, ‘Keep in touch. If we don’t hear from you, you’ll probably hear from us just checking in to see how you’re doing.’ ”
Daigle listened pensively and joked easily. He had been trying to keep a positive spirit, saying he’ll be duck hunting today while furloughed. But he also talked about lining up a job installing generators until he’s back at his desk.
“Everybody that does this feels like they’re contributing, and their service has value,” Daigle said. “This certainly comes across as, it doesn’t have the value that we thought it did. It makes a man. . . .”
He trailed off, quiet and tense and simmering with something he wouldn’t say.
Around a few corners from Boisvert’s desk, victim advocate coordinator Andrew Lasher sat at his own desk in the sexual assault prevention office. He has pinned a few photographs to the wall – a picture of him and his wife, a picture of his dog, a picture of him and his buddies in uniform overseas. He deployed in 2010 and 2011 to Kuwait and Iraq.
Today, he is also furloughed.
“It’s frustrating that my Congress can’t do its job,” Lasher said yesterday, his tone blunt.
Lasher and his wife have started to do the math, weighing possibilities, trying to figure out how many days they can wait for his paycheck to start coming again. They can make it work, he said. They can do it for a few days.
He hesitated. The last time this happened, the government shut down for 21 days in 1995 and 1996.
“I can’t do 21,” he said.
Shipyard also feeling it
In addition to the National Guard employees across the state affected by the shutdown, about 1,520 of 4,600 civilian employees at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are now also furloughed, said spokesman Gary Hildreth.
Debbie Jennings, president at International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 4, said the union represents about 1,600 engineers and technicians at the shipyard – and about half of them are now on furlough.
While the shipyard’s employees knew the shutdown was coming, Jennings said few knew who would be placed on furlough and who would be exempt until yesterday.
“They found out this morning. . . . They were allowed to stay between two and four hours, enough time to clear out their desks, get their furlough notices, do any shutdown,” she said.
Jennings said she has received calls and questions from union members asking about the shutdown, questioning the shipyard’s methods for determining who would and would not be coming to work.
“A lot of people are angry,” Jennings said. “They’re asking, ‘How was it decided that I was furloughed and my coworker wasn’t?’ ”
Hildreth reported approximately 3,085 civilian employees will be exempted from furlough at the shipyard. Union leadership was not involved in determining who would be exempted and who would not, but Jennings said they hope to learn more about that process today.
“People value the work that they do,” Jennings said. “They value our role here in the Navy and they’re being told, ‘We don’t need you.’ ”
And they’ve heard it before, Jennings said. Many of these employees lost six days of work during sequestration cuts in the past several months.
“The difference is, this time we don’t know how long it’s going to be. . . . We don’t know if this is going to be one day, we don’t know if this is going to be 30 days,” she said.
Like many shipyard workers, sequestration also cost Boisvert six days of pay earlier this year. She could plan for that, she said. She knew what was coming her way.
This time, there’s no end in sight. This time, she was sitting through her last day of work not knowing when she would be back. This time, she would have to wait indefinitely while Congress deliberates and debates, while partisan politics rock Washington and send aftershocks to her office in Concord.
And the letter was just sitting there, right on the desk, right next to her elbow.
“We’re the ones paying for it – or not getting paid,” Boisvert said.
(Ben Leubsdorf contributed reporting to this story. Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)