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VA Employees Are "Essential." NASA Workers, Not So Much.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- NASA may have the Right Stuff, but it's not essential.

In fact, of all the larger government agencies, NASA is sending the largest percentage home in the government shutdown because they are considered not essential.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which usually doesn't grab attention unless something goes wrong, has one of the highest percentage of workers considered essential and staying on.

In a city where being essential is considered as fundamental as breathing, the essential workers number is the real indicator of importance -- politically and otherwise.

It's the essential number on being essential.

"It tells you who has juice and who can protect their workers," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. "It is an indicator of who is popular, who is homecoming queen, who is homecoming king and who is coming in last."

NASA comes up last.

Only 3% of its workers are essential. The space agency doesn't have a launch scheduled until November. The space shuttle has been retired for a couple of years. The phrase "The Right Stuff," showing astronauts' can-do spirit, dates to a movie and book that are at least 30 years old.

The space agency, which turned 55 on the day it essentially shut its doors, took seriously the threshold of only using workers protecting life or property, so "it doesn't mean (NASA) isn't important by any stretch," agency spokesman Bob Jacobs said Monday before he was deemed nonessential.

In general, about 60% of the 2.1 million federal workforce is still working during the shutdown. But some not-so-loved federal agencies can't even muster 10% on the essential meter.

The Environmental Protection Agency, often a whipping boy for Republicans in Congress, has only 6% of its workers listed as essential. So does the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Ever the decimal counters, the Internal Revenue Service has only 9.3% working during the shutdown.

On the low side of the essential ranking, you can find the departments of Education (10%), Treasury (18%), Interior (20%), and Labor (22%).

Even working in James Bond-type agencies doesn't give you more juice than the people who deal with planes, trains and automobiles -- or even tomatoes.

About 30% of civilian workers in the nation's intelligence agencies are still working, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told Congress Wednesday. That's about the same as the Department of Agriculture, but nothing compared with the 67% of Department of Transportation workers are still on the job.

The Department of Homeland Security with 86% and Justice Department with 84% are in the homecoming court of the essential worker list.

Then there's the VA, where 95% of employees are still on the job, and the Department of State. Unlike other agencies, State Department officials don't have an official percentage for how many of their workers are essential, but said Wednesday essentially none of the 77,000 employees has been furloughed.

"You cannot close a VA hospital. You can't do it politically. You can't do it for the good of the patient," Light said.

The whole essential ranking "is a little bit of Mean Girls mixed in with The Right Stuff," Light said. "Only The Right Stuff doesn't happen to be the space program."

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  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 12:37 PM, ejazz2095 wrote:

    None of them are essential!

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 12:39 PM, RenegadeIAm wrote:

    Obama is talking down the markets. Unbelievable.

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 4:05 PM, HectorLemans wrote:

    A father was chatting with his left-leaning daughter home from college and asked, 'How is your friend Audrey doing?' She replied, 'Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes the next day because she's too hung over.'

    Her wise father asked his daughter, 'Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.'

    The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, 'That's a crazy idea. That would not be fair! I've worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!'

    The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently,'Welcome to the Republican party.'


    After teaching her this important lesson, the father turned back to finish watching his baseball game on the TV. Thanks to the FCC-mandated digital signal being broadcast, the picture was coming in crystal clear. Later, his wife called from the airport to say she wasn't going to make it home until tomorrow because a previous flight had been grounded and it had delayed all subsequent flights. Apparently, there had been a safety recall on the apparatus used to measure air-speed and one of the planes hadn't been fixed. Luckily, inspectors from the FAA had caught it and grounded the flight before it could cause any problems.

    "Guess for dinner I'll grill me and the kids some burgers," the father thought after getting off the cell phone with his wife, which was using one of the 800 or so radio frequencies the cellular provider had purchased at a public auction from the government a couple years ago. He hopped in his state-inspected car and drove down the public roads to the grocery store to get the burgers and buns, passing several city schools and parks on the way. Traffic was a bit congested but the flow was helped by the timed traffic lights and strategic road-signs provided by the Department of Transportation. If he did have a wreck, his car had a 5-star safety rating awarded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which gave him peace of mind.

    Arriving at the grocery store, the father parked next to the handicap space provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and walked in to purchase chips, pickles, cheese, FDA-inspected hamburger meat and some veggies to snack on. He made sure to pick up a bag of salad for his daughter who he knew was trying to eat more healthy these days. She loved fresh spinach but unfortunately, traces of E. coli had been found by federal inspectors in bags of spinach from a national producer so the store didn't have any at the moment. After getting all the necessaries, he paid in cash - using one of the newly re-designed $100 bills issued by the Treasury - and drove back home, stopping at the US post office to drop off payment for the mortgage.

    Arriving home, the father hauled the groceries to the kitchen and helped his son fire up the old charcoal grill out back. They used a bit too much lighter fluid and the flames leaped dangerously close to an overhead tree branch. But if needed, they could always grab the garden hose and use some high-pressure city water to douse the flames. If things really got out of hand, a quick call to the fire department would at least keep the neighborhood from going up in smoke.

    After dinner, the father retired to the downstairs den to read while his daughter studied and her younger brother played video games with a friend. He was reading an interesting book his wife had picked up for him at the public library. It was a historical account of a Kansas family trying to make a go of it on 160 acres of land they had claimed thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862. The book made clear just how hard life was back then - life expectancy was barely 40 years old and with very little in the way of medical care, this particular family had lost three of their eight children to sickness of one sort or another in five short years. The father read a few chapters and then turned off the lights - which were fed electricity from wiring and a breaker mandated by the National Electrical Code.

    After taking out the trash for the city to collect in the morning, the father turned in for the night. Just before going to sleep, his thoughts drifted to the earlier conversation he'd had with his daughter. He had to smile to himself. "Maybe now she'll understand how misguided those liberal democrat friends of hers are," he thought. "The world would be such a better place with less government." With that, he fell asleep - peaceful and content - ready for whatever tomorrow might bring. Outside, the streetlights blazed brightly and a police officer cruised by, making sure all was safe.

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