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As Shutdown Continues, Many Unpaid Federal Workers Are Frustrated And Angry


It's Day 27 of the partial government shutdown. An Ipsos poll done for NPR finds that three quarters of those surveyed are frustrated or angry with the government. NPR's David Welna finds that many in government are pretty angry, too.


DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: It's noon at Pork Barrel BBQ in the Washington suburb of Alexandria.

BILL BLACKBURN: Hey. Bill Blackburn - appreciate you coming in.

WELNA: I'm met at the door by the restaurant's owner. Blackburn says he's offering free food to furloughed federal workers just as he's done during every shutdown for the past five years.

BLACKBURN: If we're open and we have pulled pork, they can get a free pulled pork sandwich. The plan is to do it until the shutdown is over. So if they're out of work, we'll give them a sandwich.

WELNA: The place is thronged with idled feds, including a woman who says she's not only a scientist...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm a fed-up fed, yep. I'll say that. Yep (laughter), yeah, I am. It's just ridiculous at this point.

WELNA: She prefers to remain unnamed for fear of reprisals. That doesn't stop her from fuming about the border wall President Trump wants.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's a hundred percent political. I mean, a wall is a very simple solution - a nonsolution for a very complex problem. To think that something that that's complex could be solved with simply a barrier is ridiculous.

STEVE CODA: How are you?


CODA: Doing well. Thanks. Can I do the pulled pork sandwich?

UNIDENTIFIED CASHIER: Pulled pork sandwich.

WELNA: A large man with a beard claims his freebie.

CODA: Thanks so much.

UNIDENTIFIED CASHIER: I hope y'all back at work soon.

CODA: I hope so. Thank you so much.

WELNA: On a more normal workday, 30-year-old Steve Coda would be managing a program at the Transportation Security Administration, making more than a hundred thousand dollars a year. But he's been idled without pay for weeks.

CODA: My co-workers - you know, we've discussed about other jobs that we may get just during this period. I haven't done that yet. But if this goes into next week, that may be something I start looking into, whether it's substitute teaching or whatever it is.

WELNA: Others are already at it.

In the Uber I catch outside the restaurant, the guy at the wheel tells me apologetically it's his first day on the job.

JOE SANTANELLO: I'm just trying it out to see how comfortable I am with the app and make sure my phone works. And (laughter)...

WELNA: Joe Santanello is an Earth scientist at NASA. Normally he does computer modeling of satellite data to improve weather forecasting. But he is now furloughed and moonlighting.

SANTANELLO: The shutdown has been going on longer than I anticipated. I'm running out of disposable income and income for bills.

WELNA: Other federal workers not getting a paycheck still have to show up for their regular jobs.

MEGAN FITZSIMMONS: I get up every day, and I walk into work in a prison.

WELNA: Thirty-four-year-old Megan Fitzsimmons teaches GED courses at a federal prison in Lisbon, Ohio. She and her husband, who also teaches there, do guard duty as well. Both are working without pay. Fitzsimmons, who's an Air Force veteran, says promises of back pay once the shutdown is over don't help much now.

FITZSIMMONS: I mean, I don't trust anybody who's making me work without pay. And I'm not sure how they can make me whole because paying someone back later on doesn't make them whole. No one loans you money for free, for a start. I can't go to a bank and ask them for a loan and have them go, oh, sure, just bring me the money whenever you can.

WELNA: In Vero Beach, Fla., Kenneth McDonald is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says he spent four months last year fighting ISIS in Syria as an Army National Guard Reservist.

KENNETH MCDONALD: When I got back from Syria, I was on the job for two weeks and then furloughed.

WELNA: He's not the only one.

MCDONALD: This particular shutdown, it actually impacts veterans greatly, like myself. Thirty-one percent of us are veterans, many still serving in the Guard and Reserve.

WELNA: With six children ages 19 to 2, McDonald plans to collect unemployment and find a job where he won't be furloughed. He, too, is fed up.

MCDONALD: Very fed up (laughter), very fed up. The government is supposed to work. That's what the people expect. It's why they pay their taxes. They expect us to be at work and doing our jobs so they can do theirs. So yeah, I'm very fed up.

WELNA: One more fed-up fed with no end in sight. David Welna, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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