Shut down but not shut in: Meet two neighbors affected by the shutdown
Last Friday I attended the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable event at All Saints’ Church.
I was there in my capacity as volunteer PR consultant for re:loom, a Decatur-based nonprofit. As luck would have it, I found a local angle on the shutdown story while I was there.
Seated at the table a few elbows over was a man who introduced himself to the group as a furloughed EPA worker. After the meeting, I went over to ask him a few questions. He told me his name was Henry Slack and said he lived in Decatur.
I wanted to know how he was holding up since Tuesday, Oct. 1, when the shutdown began.
He responded with a question of his own.
“Are you non-essential?”
Slack, who monitors indoor air quality for the EPA, is one of the more than 15,000 “non-essential” EPA employees who were told to go home on Oct. 1 after Congress failed to approve a budget.
Slack said one of the more frustrating aspects of being furloughed is not being able to do any work, even for free. While he waits for Congress to settle its differences, Slack’s workload builds in anticipation of his eventual return – whenever that may be.
“Under penalty of law we cannot volunteer any services. We cannot check email. We can’t check phones,” Slack said. “I certainly would be checking my email from home. All that just stops because we can’t.”
Slack said he attended the SART forum as a private citizen, which is still allowed during the shutdown.
Federal employees aren’t the only ones inconvenienced at the moment. Contractors that regularly interact with federal agencies are in a bind, too.
Nancy Larson, project manager for the Sustainable Options consulting firm, also lives in Decatur. She came up to Slack during our interview and asked how he was doing.
Larson said she routinely uses EPA software to manage energy efficiency in commercial buildings. Since the shutdown, that software has been off limits.
“Happily, I don’t have a deadline right now,” Larson said. “If I did that would probably impact the green certifications.”
So are either of them confident Congress will end the shutdown soon?
At this point, they aren’t sure what to expect, they said.
“I wish I could be hopeful,” Larson said.
“I have no idea,” Slack said. “It’s very hard predict how unpredictable this Congress is.”
Slack said he’s busied himself with projects around the house. He keeps a schedule and follows a routine.
“Sadly I had a conference in Washington this week,” Slack said. “It’s starting this morning and I can’t be there. You might say, ‘Eh what harm is that going to do?’ Well, I don’t know. My bosses thought it was worth sending me and another employee.
“We need to recognize that … the federal government does a lot of things for a lot of people and to shut it down seems to me to be less than responsible.”