It’s “Your Turn” to share your views about the stories Washingtonians are talking about ––from a rollback on federal health care subsidies to the name change of a Virginia high school named after a Confederate general.
Long-time District-watchers were angry but not surprised that funding for city programs became a bargaining chip that helped avert a Federal shutdown. Kojo explores what we know about the budget deal, how it affects the federal workforce, and what D.C. and the rest of our region can expect going forward.
- Max Stier President and CEO, Partnership for Public Service
- Eleanor Holmes Norton Delegate, U.S. House of Representatives (D-DC)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on how the budget deal cut last Friday affects D.C., and public school students writing plays performed by professionals, the Young Playwrights Theater festival. But, first, the federal workforce went into the weekend holding its breath then exhaled because, along with the weekend, we got a budget deal. After passing a one-week continuing resolution on Saturday, Congress will cut about $38 billion from the budget for fiscal 2011. But when the government prepares to shut down and doesn't, what happens to government workers? And just who is being affected by the budget cuts?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to help us address those questions is Max Stier. He is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. Max, good to see you again.
MR. MAX STIERGreat to see you.
NNAMDIMax, what are your general thoughts about this budget deal? What particular concerns do you have?
STIERWell, everyone, obviously, has to be happy that we have a government that is operational today. But I do think people move by the costs all too quickly. And there were very real costs. I heard too many stories of conversations of managers with their employees, telling them that they were not essential, and, for many of them, that meant that they weren't going to get a paycheck. They may have mortgages they had to meet. They had no certainty that they would ever see that paycheck. And you had a whole organization, the entire government, in which way too much time was spent trying to figure out how to shut down, whether it was going to shut down, and not getting the peoples' business done, which should be the -- you know, the -- really, the sole focus.
NNAMDIWhat do we know in this short period of time over the weekend about how federal workers will likely be affected by the budget cuts?
STIERWell, some of the direct impacts were avoided, so there had been conversation about an over, you know, billion dollars taken out and salary step increases and bonuses. And that was, to my understanding, taken off the table again. None of this is done until Congress has actually voted on something, and they haven't done that yet. And it's not been made public what the full outlines are, but my understanding is that that direct piece is not there. But there are other things that will have real impact. So, for example, over a billion dollars is included in across-the-board cuts for, you know, domestic discretionary agencies.
STIERWhen you have those across-the-board cuts, they typically wind up impacting employees in very real ways. Training and development dollars are cut, travel dollars cut -- all kinds of things that are actually quite important to the functioning of an organization but oftentimes are the first things to be put out and thrown away. And then there are real -- going to be cuts to programs. And you see $13 billion in HHS, Social Security, education -- that's coming out. Those are real programs. There are going to be real impacts.
NNAMDIIf you are a federal worker concerned about how these budget cuts may be affecting you and the efficiency or the working of the government, call us at 800-433-8850. Or if you just have a question or a comment for Max Stier, 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Back to last weekend, Max, when there is a near shutdown, in terms of sheer productivity, how does it affect the average government office?
STIERI think it has enormous impact. You know, federal employees are just like everybody else. And, you know, uncertainty is one of the hardest things to deal with. And just in any other circumstance, when you have real questions about whether you're going to be permitted to work, permitted to -- those are folks that want to work -- then that becomes a, you know, primary source of attention. And, you know, the administration did wait till the very last minute to inform people of their status. That hung people up for very long period of time.
NNAMDIIt's been a long time since the last government shutdown. What was it, 17, 16 years ago? Sixteen years ago.
STIERYeah, '95, '96.
NNAMDISixteen years ago. And guidelines for shutting down, it's my understanding, haven't been updated since the Reagan administration.
STIERYes. I mean, and the world obviously has changed a great deal. You know, some, you know, pretty obvious, like websites, which has now become the primary way people get information, Blackberries, again, the capacity of people to work remotely is now, you know, incredibly enhanced. But even the balance of work that is being done, so so much of government is being done by contractors in a way that didn't exist previously. So the implications were quite substantial. And, again, my hope is that we don't go through this exercise again. Clearly, there are some big issues that have to be addressed that, frankly, make that possibility real.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned contractors because, if you happen to be a contractor with the federal government, you can call us if you have a question or comment at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail to email@example.com. We're talking with Max Stier. He is the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. There are a lot more government contractors than there were during that shutdown in 1996, and federal employees are reliant on their relationships with these contractors to make things run. How likely do you think it will be that contractors will themselves take a hit or hits from the budget cuts?
STIERI think they're clearly going to see, you know, reduced revenue. Again, if government is spending less, then contractors are going to be earning less. I think, however, that, on the plus side, it's going to be those contractors that are really offering, you know, innovative value that will see improvements. I mean, we ought to see contractors stepping up to help us figure out how to do the work of government better in the same way that everyone in government needs to do so. I mean, look, there are a lot of things to be unhappy with here, but we ought to focus forward. And that focus forward has to be on what can we do to make government run better, more efficiently with the fewer dollars that are here today and, certainly, going to be the case tomorrow.
NNAMDIWell, if there are a lot of people who are unhappier, who was happy? In spite of the fact that both Democrats and Republicans held their ground until the last minute, both sides are claiming victory. In an interview with Fox News, House Speaker John Boehner said his relationship with the administration has improved. Did both parties actually manage to come away from this looking good, as did the White House?
STIERLook, I think that there is the general world and then there's the Washington political world. This was a Washington food fight in which everybody in the nation got dirty. And it could have been worse. And I'm hoping it doesn't get worse. And on the plus side, there's no question that it's a positive that the two sides -- and one might argue there are more than two sides here -- actually came to a deal as Congressman -- former Congressman Tom Davis told me just a few days ago, they needed to get their rhythm, and this may help them get that rhythm so that they know how to work together, so they know actually how to deal with what will be a series of additional challenges going forward.
STIERBut in general terms, I don't think the public can look at this and be happy. We ought not to be having a debate about shutting down government. And that's what you see, for example, in the world press. It's like, come on, you got to be giving me a break. You're talking about shutting down the most important, you know, organization in the world? That's not what we should be talking about.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Did you incur costs as a result of the uncertainty? What plans had you made for the shutdown? Call us, 800-433-8850. Here is Lee in Centreville, Va. Lee, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEEYes, hello. My question is, my husband retired from the federal government two years ago and he's been receiving the pension. And if the government, indeed, shut down, will it impact the pension?
NNAMDIWould it, Max?
STIERIt wouldn't impact the pension over the liability that the government has to your husband. It could impact...
STIER...when. Right, exactly right. So, you know, getting checks, there might be real impact there. It's, you know, same -- this is obviously tax season, and what, basically, the IRS said is if you're an e-filer, you're going to be fine because it's automated. But if you're a paper filer, yep, there are going to be delays. So, again, there could be an impact in the when but not in the what, at this point. And who knows what future negotiations hold, though.
NNAMDILee, thank you very much for your call. Continuing resolutions have kept the government afloat, so far, while the budget was worked out. But there's a lot of tension and worry involved when you fund the government for a week or two at a time. Do you believe there's a better way to keep things going?
STIERYeah, no question. And you're 1,000 percent right. When you do a continuing resolution, it's not just the worry. But agencies essentially shut down. They don't make those long-term plans or long-term investments that are really essential to the health of the organizations they're running. So long-term contracts, one of the best stories I've heard -- and I haven't validated this myself when I say best in air quotes here -- was that NOAA was unable to enter into a contract to maintain a tsunami indicator. Tsunami indicators in the Pacific Ocean in that, somewhere close to, like, 10 percent of them were not working.
STIERAnd this is obviously, you know, going on at the same time period as we had the tsunami in Japan because they couldn't enter into a long-term contract to take care of them. So there are real implications around hiring, around worker contractors. It's not a way to run a government or any other significant organization.
NNAMDIHere is Cole in Silver Spring, Md. Cole, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COLEHi. I was just wondering -- weekend, has anyone been able to quantify how many work hours went into the process of preparing to shut down. Obviously, it seems a little ridiculous, but I'm married to a government employee who works for NOAA, and she received her furlough notice on Friday. Actually, she received it on Thursday evening, and there was a lot of meetings she talked about that were going along with the senior managers. I'm just wondering how many hours were spent and then if that's been quantified to an actual real number in revenue. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much. That's an excellent question. Isn't it, Max?
STIERIt's a fabulous question. And I wish I could say that the answer was there was such a calculation. It should be made. I mean, and this is on government's fault last year. We don't do a good enough job of really measuring performance, and an example of this is being able to quantify something like that. You know it's a huge number. They're obviously close to two million federal employees. The, sort of, rough estimate was that 800,000 of them would be deemed not essential. But whether you are essential or not, you know that the folks were talking about and they were thinking about it. So it's a very big number. You imagine, too, you know, 800,000 people told not to come to work. That's a huge difference, and it ought to be frightening for everybody.
NNAMDII'm glad he brought that up because it takes me back to your earlier remark about your view that we should not be having a conversation about shutting down the government, that even though there was maybe happiness, maybe exhilaration on the parts of some people, when a deal was finally reached late Friday night, the American people, in your view, should not be happy about all of this because, to quote you again, we shouldn't be having this conversation. And the caller's call reminds us that when we have that conversation, the conversation itself triggers all kinds of activity in the federal government on the part of employees who might be productively employed doing something else.
STIERRight. And, look, I'd love to have that number of how many people -- the work hours that were lost. But I also fear that there are a fair number of people who will actually be leaving government that are retirement-eligible or simply have some other opportunity. I know anecdotally I've heard from a number of folks that they plan on doing that. We ought to be able to quantify it. We can't. We ought to be doing exit interviews, frankly, of federal employees as they leave, certainly around the mission-critical talent. But there's no doubt that this will have an impact and not a good one.
NNAMDIHere is Steve in Washington, D.C. Steve, your turn.
STEVEYes. I work for the federal government, as does my wife, and the agencies reacted in different ways where we work. At my agency, they were very organized. And about one o'clock, two o'clock Friday, we knew what our options were. We could e-mail in our status. We didn't have to show up Monday morning to "shut down the government." My wife's agency said everyone had to come in Monday morning. And then at 11:30 at night, or close to midnight, they waited until the last minute and then sent out word people could do it by e-mail. I mean, that's sort of a procedural point, but my bigger concern is there's such unfairness in this whole thing.
STEVEI mean, the Republicans want to sock it to the federal workforce, sock it to the social safety net. But will they ever sock it to corporations? Will they ever sock it to the oil industry? Will they ever sock it to the insurance industry? Of course not. There's no fairness here. There's no balance here. When are we going to get fairness and balance in America? Thank you.
NNAMDIComing from the voice of a federal worker.
STIERAbsolutely. And, look, I think there's no question that a lot of folks are understandably angry and hurt. And, as I said earlier, this is not the way to run our government. And, again, I don't think this is actually a partisan issue. This should just be off the table. You can have, you know, policy disagreements, but the impact ought not to be creating the -- both the uncertainty and disruption for our government.
NNAMDIAs I mentioned earlier, the budget just passed was the budget for 2011. And it won't be long, hopefully, until the 2012 budget is on the table. Are you optimistic that, for that one, it'll be smoother sailing?
NNAMDIWhat are the early signs that you see?
STIERAgain, I think the best reason for optimism is they came to a deal here. And, perhaps, this has created the kinds of relationships that will enable earlier and more, you know, fruitful negotiations, so that we don't require the hammer of a government shutdown to create problems. But think about this. The reason why we don't have a 2011 budget is because the Congress, in which there was a Democratic majority, didn't get one passed. So the fact of the matter is that, I think, this represents not just a partisan dysfunction, but frankly, a congressional dysfunction. We have CRs as becoming matters of course, and, again, that has enormous detrimental consequence for our government and ultimately for the purse strings, for the, you know -- for the government's budget. So am I optimistic? Not really. But am I hopeful? Yes.
NNAMDINow, the Republicans are already putting forward proposals, and President Obama is scheduled to address the nation on Wednesday night with his "long-term budget cutting proposals." I guess you'll be monitoring all of the above very carefully.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton about how the budget cuts and, in particular, the budget cut deal affects the District of Columbia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIMuch of the country may be relieved that Congress averted a shutdown of the federal government late Friday night, but the last minute budget deal left, at least, some District of Columbia residents seething. According to D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the only two groups of people singled out in the budget bill were District residents and Guantanamo Bay detainees. And quoting here, "The symbolism of the pairing and contempt it shows for our city is not lost on our residents." At issue are the inclusion of three provisions that override local district decisions about spending and policy.
NNAMDIOne bans the D.C. government from spending its own funds to provide abortions for low-income women. Another reinstates funds for a school voucher program in the city, a pet project of House Speaker John Boehner. It's controversial, to say the least, even though, frankly, it has quite a few supporters in the city. Still unresolved is a provision that would ban the city from using its own money for needle exchange programs. Joining us now by telephone is Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives. Congresswoman Norton, thank you for joining us.
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTONHello, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou've said the administration and Senate Democrats threw the District under a bus in last weekend's budget deal. How so?
NORTONOh, how else to put it? Notice what happened in these budget negotiations. They were about spending. Our local funds have no effect on federal spending. They are raised by the taxpayers in the District of Columbia. The Democrats control the House and the Senate. In fact, if you think about it, we control almost all of the elected government. We control half of the House, but the House doesn't have hardly anything to do with this. Even with that control, it looks like we're about to make a U-turn on the riders that I was able to get off during the four years of Democratic control.
NORTONThe notion of turning around right away because these riders have just been taken off, and at the demand of Republicans who were responsible -- excuse me -- for putting them on, to acquiesce in that, when, indeed, you gave them already, it looks like -- some say, you could calculate it at 80 percent of the spending they want, minimally wanted, minimally two-thirds of the spending they wanted. That means they got almost everything they wanted. They did very well in what these negotiations were all about -- spending.
NORTONAnd then, on top of that, you throw in the District of Columbia for good measure with its local funds? No. We got to stand up and be counted on this one. And, Kojo, I'm very pleased to say that, at least, some of our residents are because I got a notice saying that DC Vote had called D.C. residents to the Hart office building, the Senate Hart Office Building today at 5 p.m.
NNAMDIAnd, Congresswoman Norton, guess who we're getting a phone call from right now? It says, Ilir. So I'm assuming it means Ilir Zherka of DC Vote. Allow me to bring him in. Ilir Zherka, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. ILIR ZHERKAThank you so much, and thanks to the congresswoman for that shout-out. You know, this is outrageous. And I think, for a lot of people to hear that President Barack Obama himself gave the District to Speaker John Boehner, he was quoted as saying, is really an outrage. And we're calling on people to show their outrage and their anger at five o'clock p.m. today outside the Hart building. It's on 2nd and Constitution. We're going to be out there. And as the Congresswoman was starting to say, the ink isn't on this paper yet. I mean, this bill has not been passed. It's not been signed into law. And so we're going to demand that those riders be taken out.
NNAMDIOkay. Ilir Zherka is the head of DC Vote. Ilir, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton, it is my understanding that, during the course of all of this, you had not received a call from either the White House or Senate Democrats to explain why they felt that they had, in your words, to throw the District under the bus. But it's my understanding that you made a phone call to the White House chief of staff today. What happened there?
NORTONWell, I made a phone call to Bill Daley, the chief of staff of the president, yesterday, and talked with him. But I was very concerned about not only the riders we know of, but other riders we don't know of. When I mentioned needle exchange, and that would be the worst of the worst because the needle exchange rider alone is responsible for why we have the highest AIDS rate in the United States. It would be high, but would nowhere be near the highest in the United States. That means death and destruction and disease in the District of Columbia.
NORTONAnd he had indicated that they had put that on the table, but he thought it was off and he'd get back to me. He did not. I now have a call in to Jacob Lew, the head of OMB, where a lot of this negotiation was going on. I haven't gotten to speak with him. I did call and speak with Senate -- with the majority leader last week at a time when this was not on. And he said they were doing all they could to hold against these riders. But as the riders came on, we had no notice whatsoever. And, frankly, if this is what Democrats do for us, I really don't know what is the use.
NORTONThere's nothing lower, Kojo, than being a bargaining chip for the Republicans after they've already gotten almost all of the spending they want, and they hold you up. It does seem to us that they could have held the line, having given them so much of what they said these negotiations were all about. Remember, these Republicans, yes, they want to have some riders. But these Republicans are about the money, and they got most of the money they wanted. So we don't understand why the Democrats couldn't then hold the line on our local self-government.
NORTONAnd, Kojo, I really need to make people know what this means. Having seen -- if we are given up this way, if we can't turn this back, then the signal has been sent. Go for the District of Columbia 'cause they gave us what we wanted, and we were able to get some of the District of Columbia. Residents ought to understand that your home rule is in jeopardy. We were, for the last several years, trying to get voting rights and statehood -- better put that off for a while. We need people to carry the banner for where the fight is now.
NNAMDITwo aspects -- two specifics about that, Congresswoman Norton, how will the District's abortion services change under the terms of the new appropriations bill? It's my understanding that a part of this deal is that the District of Columbia will no longer be allowed to use its own funds raised by taxes from District residents for the provision of abortions to poor women.
NORTONWell, that's exactly right, and that means that reproductive choice would be available to everybody else in the District of Columbia -- every other woman, except low-income women. And, by the way, Kojo, throughout the United States, since you can never spend federal funds on abortion services, hundreds of jurisdictions spend their own local funds. We have not been able to do this up until now. And, of course, we'd be back to not being able to do this, as the Democrats gave us up.
NORTONAnd they're leaving something -- and we certainly hope -- and I've got -- I'm still trying -- seeking clarification, that there's even a bill here to make it permanent, to make abortion funding from our local funds no longer possible permanently. I can't even tell you as I speak whether they've given us up as is the usual case in the annual appropriation or whether they stuck us with a permanent ban, which would be a complete and unprecedented new way to get to us.
NNAMDIWell, Congresswoman Norton, the headlines going into Friday was that the Republicans were drawing the line on Planned Parenthood getting any funding at all, even though one must point out that Planned Parenthood does not use federal funds for the provision of abortion. Well, apparently, the Democrats in the White House were able to hold the line on Planned Parenthood, and the rumor mill has it that what they gave up in return was the District of Columbia.
NORTONI certainly hope that wasn't the case. I applaud them for holding the line on Planned Parenthood. These people wanted to wipe out Planned Parenthood altogether. And Planned Parenthood spends its own funds from the federal government mostly on low- and modest-income women, like the women in the District of Columbia. Again, if you say, well, you know, there was a -- it was a choice between Planned Parenthood nationally and locally, D.C., I can tell you that was not the choice. If they hadn't given so much of the funds, perhaps they could make that case. But I can tell you that could not have been the choice. Remember where the president started. He started with only a freeze. Then the Republicans insisted on doubling their beginning number of $30 million. (sic)
NORTONAnd they didn't get that, but they -- we took their beginning number of 30 and gave them almost all of what they wanted. And the final number was -- which was $40 billion. We gave them $38 billion. Now, having gotten that much of what they wanted, we believe it was probably unnecessary to throw us in for good measure.
NNAMDIWhat does the budget deal mean for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives low-income D.C. students federal money to attend private schools and...
NORTONWe have no idea of the contours of that. The preference of the District of Columbia, which now has its own huge budget problem, is that it was for the federal government to look at our own alternative to our D.C. public schools. Unlike almost every jurisdiction in the United States, we have what amounts to an alternative school system. Whereas most jurisdictions keep charter schools out, 40 percent of our children go to charter schools. We've got huge waiting lists. Boehner has a pet project. He wants to restart a private voucher program. This, in spite of the fact that there's a deal that was made in the last couple of years that said that every child now in the voucher program can remain until graduation, which means we've had it for a very long time.
NORTONHe's piling on because he also smells blood, and that's what going to happen to our home rule. We won't decide which -- where our school money goes. We won't decide whether or not we have -- not vouchers -- whether or not we have needle exchange. The Republicans are going to decide it. And if the Democrats cave in, then this is where we're going to be for a lot more. And that's why I think DC Vote no longer is giving its primary attention to voting rights or statehood. They are now moving in on where the Republicans have moved.
NNAMDIThere is some internal division in the city on the school choice program. Mayor Vincent Gray and you oppose it. City Council Chairman Kwame Brown and a few others are in support of it. But, I guess, the initiative now is in the hands of the U.S. Congress. When will we know the...
NORTONWell, wait a minute.
NORTONNo local official in the District of Columbia was consulted before this bill went in, so none of us are saying that vouchers are horrible things. We are saying that if, in fact, this party who now has power here in the House believes that private school vouchers are so fine, then why did not -- they not bring -- because it's wholly within their power -- a national voucher's bill to the floor so that those districts that wanted them could choose them? Once again, this is no different from what they're doing on the other riders.
NORTONThey are deciding for themselves what their alternative is, what their preference is, without even asking us. And I don't care whether you're for it or against it. You can't allow that to happen.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton, any idea when we will know the fate of the House-passed ban on using city money for needle exchange programs, which could also end up in the budget battle?
NORTONWell, or for that matter for anything else, I have a call in to Jacob Lew...
NORTON...who is the head of the Office of Management and Budget. He's in the White House. I've asked for a return call right away. I'm also calling my friends in the Senate to say, well, truly, you can do something about this.
NNAMDIWe will see what happens. Congresswoman Norton, thank you so much for joining us.
NORTONAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIEleanor Holmes Norton is the D.C. delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. We're going to be taking a short break. When we come back, the Young Playwrights Theater festival. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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