From the Desk of Dan Ashe

The Federal Government Shut-Show

Sadly, today marks the 28th day of the federal government shutdown, the longest in our nation’s history. This morning’s Washington Post includes an editorial entitled, “Surprise! We need the federal government.”

As a 22-year career employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), I managed the organization through shutdowns in 1995 (5 days), 1996 (21 days), and in 2013 (16 days).  This past Tuesday (January 15), I was asked to testify before Congress, as the former FWS Director, to share my perspectives on the effect the shutdown has on that agency, as well as its regulated parties and partner organizations. Among those are AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and as U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut) introduced me as former Director and current AZA President and CEO, she exclaimed, “What a great job!”, and praised AZA member facilities as “Great places for grandchildren!” Yes and yes!

But the occasion quickly turned somber as witnesses shared shutdown experiences and effects on safety, security, mission, morale, public service, and something especially precious and perilous — people’s lives.

I was going to use this blog to share a summary of my Tuesday testimony. But, you can read that separately in the AZA Press Room or below, if you’d like.

Stated simply, shutdowns are chaos, and trying to manage a shutdown is chaos on top of chaos. It’s a “shut-show”.

Our colleagues and friends at the Smithsonian’s  National Zoological Park are living this chaos, and they need our help. Their federal government workforce is now divided into three classes: those funded by non-federal sources who have continued to work and are being paid (although weirdly, they cannot enter zoo property or use federal government equipment); those furloughed, not working and not being paid, but will get “back pay” when this shut-show is done; and those whose jobs are essential for protection of life and property, and therefore, exempt from furlough, and required to work without pay, but will also be paid when the shut-show is done. Clear?

Oh, and I forgot to mention, a fourth class: Friends of National Zoo (FONZ) employees, who are not federal government employees. All are barred from working on federal property, with most not working, and of course, those not working are not being paid, and because they are not federal employees, some will not get “back pay” when this is all done.

Our hearts go out to all of these people, their families, and the many lives being affected.

The silver lining lies in the many businesses and charities that have shown compassion by providing food and other support. And for the businesses surrounding the zoo, this is a time when their revenues are also suffering because the zoo is closed.

This week, I have been in contact with Steve Monfort, Director of the National Zoo, and this afternoon, I’ll be following up with Brandie Smith, Associate Director of Animal Care at the National Zoo. We will deploy either what remains in AZA’s Employee Assistance Fund or newly raised funds, to provide no-cost loan assistance for National Zoo related employees to cover imminent financial needs until they get their back pay.

You can help by donating to AZA’s Employee Relief Fund, and encourage others to do the same. It’s online and easy. We will be working closely with Steve and Brandie on the distribution of funds.

Congresswoman DeLauro was right! I have a great job, and one of the primary reasons is that I work with great people who work to make the world a better place. And when it counts, you show up!

Let’s show up for our friends and colleagues at National Zoo!

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