Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What "Essential" Means for a Government Job

I'm getting a little frustrated with the pundits' question about government workers re: essential or emergency essential status.  The snappy quote is "well, if they aren't essential, why don't we just fire them and solve the budget problem?"

There may be some people and jobs that could benefit from that treatment.

My experience was in the field of military installation operations support. That's a fancy name for keeping the basic services working for the groups who perform the military mission.  We had lots of 'emergency essential' and non-essential jobs. Here are a few examples:

The people who cook food for Soldiers were essential every day or Soldiers did not eat. In part this is because many military units are no longer authorized cooks, so someone else does it for them. It is much more expensive to the taxpayer to have them eat out for lunches and dinners because they get additional tax-free money called 'separate rations allowance.'

The guy who ordered the food was essential half a day each week. One week he would order the food during that half day, the next week he would receive it, inspect it and inventory it off the trucks. He had levels of certification above the cooks so he could spend taxpayer money. When he was working full time, he had other duties, like menu planning, cost reduction and facility inspection but those tasks were not essential in the emergency duty description.

The people who fix broken pipes were essential so that if a pipe broke somewhere in the 9 million square feet of buildings or 40 miles of outdoor piping, it could be fixed fast. Because of the age of some of the infrastructure, we had lots of breaks.

The engineers who design interior building remodel projects are not emergency essential. The buildings need to be remodeled in the future to prevent more expensive expenditures like unnecessary new buildings, but those projects can wait a few days or weeks.

The Chaplain is essential because he/she runs counseling and suicide-prevention services for military personnel.

The organist is not because we can have a Sunday service without organ music.

The NEPA coordinator (environmental compliance officer for future projects) is not emergency essential.
The specialists who manage the hazardous waste are essential, because the law requires proper storage and disposal regardless of the budget situation. Many of the tasks require daily inspections and short timelines with BIG fines for non-compliance.

My last position as Strategic Plans Director was non-essential in emergencies because we were concerned with plans for 1 year or more from now, and the results to see whether the organization was on track. Like any business, long term planning is not a luxury, but is also not an emergency process.

There are also some jobs you wouldn't think of as emergency essential, like child-care.  Turns out that on a military base, if there's no child-care a large number of younger Soldiers call in to stay home with their kids. Missions suffer.

It's not that these non-essential jobs don't need to be done, its that they don't need to be done continuously during an emergency.

I hope that is useful information.

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