For years, government jobs have earned a reputation as stable. Employees could generally count on few surprises, good benefits and a solid retirement. For many workers, it comes with the reward of feeling like they helped the public.
The record-long government shutdown, which ended late Friday with a deal to fund several federal departments through Feb. 15, has damaged that notion.
Even after the impasse between Congress and the White House ended on its 35th day, after hundreds of thousands of people faced another missed paycheck and staffing shortages caused delays at airports, the closure threatened recruitment and retention of top talent in federal departments.
On Friday, about 800,000 federal workers missed their second paychecks, since funding for nine departments lapsed on Dec. 22. Many faced furloughs, while others have had to toil without pay. President Donald Trump and lawmakers have pledged that the employees will get back pay.
However, much of the damage has already been done. The missed paydays have left thousands of workers scrambling to cover meals and bills, selling personal items or seeking temporary or permanent work outside of their government posts.
Some U.S. employees and outside groups advocating for them worry the political fight over Trump's proposed border wall — which could force another shutdown as early as next month, if the president and Congress can't reach an accord — will drive talented people away from government service.
"I expect there will be some long-term repercussions of this in terms of really good people deciding this is not the career they signed up for," one American diplomat posted in Europe who declined to be named said last week about younger people entering the foreign service. The official, who also mentioned Trump's travel ban as a potential factor in driving young diplomats away, is reporting to work during the shutdown and not getting paid.
The federal government employs about 2 million civilians, according to the Office of Personnel Management. While many conservatives such as Office of Management and Budget Director and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney would like to see cuts, federal employment has stayed steady in recent years. The government does send much of its work to private contractors. (Contractors are in dire straits, too. There are about 10,000 companies that are contracted by government agencies affected by the shutdown, according to The Washington Post.)
Federal funding has lapsed 21 times since 1976, according to the Congressional Research Service. While workers did not face furloughs in all of those cases, they have during recent shutdowns. With the current partial closure entering its record 35th day and leading to at least two missed paychecks, it has become particularly demoralizing for people considering government work.