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NEWS | Oct. 16, 2013

The Government Shutdown’s Silver Lining

By Col James Fontanella 315th Airlift Wing Commander

As I write this commentary, we are in the tenth day of the partial government shutdown due to the lapse in appropriation. Hopefully, by the time this paper has hit the stands and you are reading this, a budget or continuing resolution has been passed, and the government has reopened. It certainly has been a tough road for all employees, whether military or civilian, DoD or other agency. I'd like to share a few of my observations on what we did right during this extremely challenging time.

We continued to move the mission. This was obviously our first priority and a disruption in mission accomplishment was not negotiable to senior leaders of any branch of the government. Essential operations were prioritized to ensure national security, and support to the warfighter in overseas contingencies did not falter. We quickly learned the differences between "exempted" personnel and activities and "excepted" personnel and activities, and then developed a plan to communicate the orderly shutdown procedure. Contracts, TDYs and non-essential work were all suspended. Although nearly ninety percent of civilian employees were initially furloughed, the cadre that remained behind provided support to ongoing operations with focus and determination.

Being in the position to observe the workload and ops tempo of our active-duty mission partners while at the same time experience the part-time contribution of reservist citizen Airmen, I know there was an impact from tapering reserve work while awaiting personnel appropriations. Fortunately, the solid relationships and cooperation that exist on JB Charleston and mutual understanding of the associated wings' strengths and limitations enabled relatively smooth transitions in and out of mission sustainment sharing.

When the recall of the non-excepted civilians was made to bring all furloughed employees back into work after four days off, there was a collective sigh of relief that was tangible. Understandably, this was a reprieve from the uncertainty of the duration of the furlough and the personal financial impact of unpaid leave. But what was conspicuously lacking were the grievances and gripes of our nearly stoic workforce who had every right to complain. The cumulative effects of a financially tough year might lead some to overreact and act counterproductively. This has not been the case. As with the administrative furlough due to sequestration earlier in the year, my hat is off to all affected employees who endured the government shutdown with class and grace.

We still have a ways to go to get back to normal. Most of our civilian employees and reserve Airmen have worked for IOUs instead of paychecks. But morale is what you make of it. I believe morale is a function of peoples' character, not their circumstances. The current circumstances have provided plenty of opportunity for a deterioration of our organizations. I am proud to say we are emerging from the crisis in the federal government with our missions, procedures and integrity intact. This is truly a testament to the outstanding character of our people. Keep up the great work!