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OPINION COLUMNS

Lawmakers won’t do their job, now public servants can’t do theirs

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, October 5, 2013

I was tempted to share my opinion about what is going on in Washington this week, but I think I’ll reserve that column for the future – especially if this government partial shutdown and debt ceiling mess continue.

Besides, I think many of my sentiments are covered quite nicely by Roy Eaton’s column elsewhere on this page.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

Instead, I thought I’d focus on a group of people who have suddenly found themselves in the spotlight due to the government shutdown: public servants.

Many government employees are basically on unpaid leave at this moment. Others, deemed “essential,” remain on the job, but they don’t know for sure if or when they’ll be paid for their service. In the past, they have always received their pay once our nation’s “leaders” finally hammer out an agreement.

But with the current dysfunctional bunch we’ve got in Washington, that’s anything but a guarantee.

Sorry, I’m branching off into opinions about our elected officials again. Let me get back on track.

From what I’ve been told, public service used to be highly regarded in this country. I remember as a child looking up to my grandfather, who was a longtime postmaster in my hometown. It seemed to me that he held a very important job, and he was well-respected in the community because of it.

Heck, I even remember seeing an invitation to a presidential inauguration that came to my grandfather. For a short time as a youngster, I wanted to be a postmaster, too, when I grew up.

Postal employees have not been affected by the shutdown, since they are now an independent agency of the federal government. But plenty of other government employees have.

I think too many of us, particularly those who aren’t big fans of “federal government,” can easily lose sight of what it means to be a public servant. I’ve seen comments this week that public servants are “lazy” or “overpaid” or are making too big of a deal about the furloughs.

This lack of respect for public servants was on display by U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer from our great state of Texas this week. He was seen on video telling a Park Service ranger at the World War II Memorial that she should be “ashamed” for following orders to shut down the memorial due to the government shutdown.

Take a minute to let the irony of that sink in fully before moving on.

I guess it’s easy to make those statements if we think about public service purely through the lens of politics. You get a different perspective when those public servants are friends, next door neighbors or family – with families of their own to support. Like the rest of us, they live, work and pay taxes right here in Wise County and other small towns across the nation.

The economy and its seemingly precarious snail-like pace to recovery has been a big issue over the past several years. It’s like that commercial with the adult talking to kids about how “bigger (faster, saving money, doing two things at once, etc.) is better.” It stands to reason that having people working is good, and that shutting down the nation’s largest employer is bad.

“It’s not complicated,” as the tagline in the commercial says.

Some say we’ve got too many government employees taking taxpayer money as it is, so maybe the shutdown is a good thing. That depends on your political persuasion, I guess. But shutting everybody down (or, at least shutting down their pay) is not a healthy way to address that issue, any more than the sequester’s across-the-board spending cuts was not a healthy way to address cuts in spending.

But when rigid political ideology and pride take precedence over common sense and the common good, this is the mess you are left with.

Sorry, there I go again evaluating the “work” of our elected officials (sorry for putting “quotation marks” around the word “work” which seems to indicate I don’t think they are really working in the country’s best interest, but rather their own).

Enough about our elected officials, back to public servants.

As I was rolling ideas around in my head for this column, I saw the breaking news alert about the woman who apparently breached a secure area near the White House and then led police on a chase that ended near the Capitol building. I saw dozens of police officers doing their job, directing people to safety and doing their best to neutralize the possible threat.

It was only later I realized through news reports that those officers are among the “essential” public service employees who were still on the job despite the shutdown. They may or may not get paid for their work, in which it is very possible their lives and lives of others, including lawmakers, were at risk.

The officers know what it means to work, no need for quotations. If only the people who control their pay knew that…

Brian Knox is special projects manager for the Messenger.

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