Furlough 2013: Non-essential/Non-excepted vs. Essential/Excepted

Does Anyone Know What These Words Mean?

Over the course of three years, federal workers have been hearing these words floating around and buzzing at the water cooler, while conversations abound in newsprint, media, and blogs—three words which threaten their livelihood, all summed up in the “F” word: furlough. When government employees hear this word, it often surfaces hand-in-hand with one of the other two: non-essential and non-excepted.

All these words explained in layman’s terms: shut up and work if you are “essential” or “excepted.” In the “kinder, gentler” 1990s and early 2000s the fact that some employees were considered essential employees made sense. But then the non-essential employees had a hissy fit because their feelings got hurt over being termed “non-essential.” Now the new label for those to put up or shut up during the shutdown is “excepted,” as if that term is clearer as to their value than “essential,” and as if “non-excepted” is way more sensitive a term than “non-essential federal employee.” They both boil down to the same thing. The government is funny that way . . . much ado about nothing, so it seems?

You would think a Nobel Peace Prize physicist, whose life’s motivation and passion it is to make changes for humankind, would be essential/excepted . . . as hysterically funny as this may seem, the answer is nope . . . ordered not to work on any projects or report to work. The Associated Press reported that David Wineland, a 2012 Nobel Prize winner, was furloughed during the shutdown. While a physicist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Wineland won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his “ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.” Nevertheless, Wineland was deemed non-essential, and was relieved from duty as a result of the government shutdown.

Here’s the deal, according to Wikipedia:

“Most civilian positions in the federal government of the United States are part of the competitive service, where applicants must compete with other applicants in open competition under the merit system administered by the Office of Personnel Management. However, some agencies (and some positions within other agencies) are excluded from these provisions. Although they primarily operate on a merit basis also, they have their own hiring systems and evaluation criteria. These agencies are called excepted service agencies and such positions are part of the excepted civil service. The primary common denominator of many of these agencies and positions is that they have national security and/or intelligence functions.”

Meanwhile, after trying to figure out if you are a “put up and shut up” employee or a “shut down and shut out” one, neither has any redeeming value as far as I’m concerned, because it all is such an inhuman political tool, not unlike dangling a baby off a balcony or a baby circling the drain with the bath water!

As if the first two or three weeks were not enough to endure, alarmingly, not one community organization in this area opened up their heart in an effort to help those families in dire need to maintain their livelihood, other than the Cross Valley Federal Credit Union. Ten days into the shutdown, the FCU began offering a zero-interest, no-payment-for-ninety-day loan. Makes one think, when after all the outreach programs that Social Security and other federal government agencies have provided within the Wyoming Valley for decades, no business owners found zero pay shutdown work until the arm wrestling in Congress is finally over . . . for over 70,000 workers within Pennsylvania . . . and the nation’s top five employer (federaldata.gov) . . . a five alarm fire, a crisis?

The “suffer in silence” mindset in Northeastern Pennsylvania seems to be that of every man, woman, and family for themselves . . . You’ll get back on track; we’ve got savings, so we’ll be ok. In contrast, a great majority of businesses in the DC area are offering a variety of freebies and deals to get the federal working class back on their feet while they ride out the storm.

But no, not in our backyard. Not one sandwich, slice of pizza, crust of bread, can of soup, tank of gas, for those who have to work, for those who have worked in the community for twenty or thirty years in the government, and who have supported these businesses within the community for the same amount of time. Nada . . . zip!

Why is there a law to furlough, without pay, anyone who agrees to government rules to allow politicians to come out and play, while their support base is grounded? There is something evil in the design of it all.

Hopefully, with the full resumption of federal operations in mid-October, government will stop playing their games for good, and all those nasty words—furlough, non-essential, non-excepted, essential, and excepted—will go by the wayside. But something tells me this new normal and low of politics is here to stay!

  • Licia Gregory
  • Licia Gregory is the author of “My Favorite Girl” (Tate Publishing), and currently resides in Wilkes-Barre.

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