Laura Romaniello / art director

Katie Jensen

Equinox Staff

Keene State College students are aware of the fierce partisan debate happening in Congress over the southern border wall. However, what should concern KSC students the most are the federal workers who have been furloughed or working without pay due to the government shutdown.

The United States government partially shut down on Dec. 20, 2018 after Democrats in the Senate refused a continuing resolution that included about five billion dollars in funding for a new border wall. The Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) stated in a press release that the funding would cover roughly 215 miles of “wall system” that comes equipped with sensory technology. Secretary of D.H.S. Kirstjen Nielsen also said the funding would replace dilapidated fencing and broken barriers along the border, as well as repair roads for border agents.

Congress is torn over the necessity to continue building a physical wall along the southern border. During a press conference with President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated that the wall is a “political promise” and “the experts say you can do border security without a wall, which is wasteful and doesn’t solve the problem.”

The gridlock in Congress has affected federal workers in every state across the nation. The New York Times reported that a total of 800,000 federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay. Many of these people work for government departments and agencies such as Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, the Coast Guard and several more. Those who have a furloughed salary will not work or get paid for the remainder of the shutdown, but will retain their benefits and job security. Only half of the federal workers were ensured that they would get retroactive pay after the shutdown is resolved.

There are 230 undergraduates studying political science at Keene State College, according to the 2017 to 2018 KSC Factbook. Many of these students plan to work for the government in some capacity after graduating college or earning a graduate degree. Data U.S.A. regularly publishes data on job availability and recently reported that the most common occupations for political science majors are lawyers, judge magistrates and other judicial workers. Fortunately, the federal courts had enough money to continue operating through the 2018 to 2019 government shutdown. However, if the shutdown went on long enough, the federal judiciary would exhaust their resources and be forced to make more cutbacks. In extreme circumstances when the government shutdown lasts more than a few weeks, the federal courts would be forced to work without pay and delay civil court cases.

If students are planning to work for any government agency or department, they should be aware that these institutions become vulnerable during times of fierce political discourse. Controversy over budgetary issues, such as healthcare or homeland security, can cause the government to shutdown and put federal workers in an uncomfortable position. The New York Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) has previously had to close 134 facilities across the nation. The agency has had to furlough the salaries of roughly 600 pollution inspectors who are responsible for inspecting chemical factories, power plants, oil refineries and many other industrial sites.

Criminal justice majors should also be aware that law enforcement agencies are vulnerable to government shutdowns as well. The Washington Examiner reported that over ten thousand law enforcement personnel were among those working without pay. The report stated: “That includes workers at the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and more.”

Now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history has entered an interlude. On Jan. 25, President Trump announced that payment would be resupplied to government workers until Feb.15. This is only a temporary concession for members of Congress to renegotiate the appropriation bill concerning Homeland Security. Afterwards, no one knows what might happen. That is the kind of volatility that comes with working for the government, and we wish the best for students pursuing that route.

Katie Jensen can be contacted at kjensen@kscequinox.com