Furloughed Workers Call on Congress to 'Get Their Act Together'

For furloughed workers, Tuesday is the beginning of increased anxiety.

October 02, 2013, 6:20 PM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2013— -- Furloughed government workers are getting some unexpected time off, but the impromptu vacation is likely to be a period of increased anxiety for the roughly 800,000 federal employees who do not know when they will go back to work -- or get a pay check.

Among the nervous crop of government workers is Matthew Hoffman, a scientist with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., who said he had to go to his office Tuesday for four hours to "close up the labs" and "shut down experiments" and then he had to "close up the shop and leave."

Hoffman planned to spend the rest of the day with friends visiting on a two-day trip from Sydney, Australia. Outside of the White House he called the government shutdown "ridiculous."

"In light of the previous two elections here where Obama's been elected on the premise of changing the health care system then with the Supreme Court decision to support the change in health care and so it's all good things happening, yet there's a vocal group that doesn't want it to happen and this is their way of holding everyone hostage," Hoffman said, adding he believes the "House should send a clean bill to the Senate to fund the government."

So what does the shutdown mean specifically for the experiments he's been working on?

Hoffman says it means "delays, it slows everything down, it costs to shut experiments down."

"It's all just such a waste of time and a lot of waste of money for the American people that fund our research," he said.

Caitlyn Briere, a program analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency, was spending her first furlough day at the Washington, D.C. synagogue Sixth & I, which opened their doors Tuesday to affected employees calling themselves "Shutdown Central."

While watching episodes of "The West Wing," furloughed workers chatted, snacked, and even played "political ping pong" with the faces of both John Boehner and President Obama, while following news of the shutdown that affected their lives the most.

"It's not a secure financial position to be in, not knowing when we're going to get paid again," Briere said. "D.C. is an expensive city to live in, so it does make me a little nervous to be uncertain about that. So, I would like it to be short."

The EPA furloughed about 96 percent of its workforce and Briere said when she went to work Tuesday morning she went through what are called "shutdown procedures," which includes putting an out-of-office message on her voicemail and e-mail, submitting her time sheets for this week, and essentially walking out the door.

"I think it's really dangerous and irresponsible for politicians to basically hold the economy hostage over a law and regardless of how controversial it might be, I think they're playing games with the economy, I don't agree with that tactic," Briere said. "So people need to get their act together over on the Hill."

The American Federation of Government Employees estimates 800,000 to 1 million federal workers are furloughed and it's not clear at this point whether those workers will get paid for this period. After the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, Congress authorized back pay for federal employees, but it is not clear whether that will happen this time around, leaving these workers nervous.

Kara Koehrn, also a program analyst at the EPA, says she has some savings, but she had "other goals, other plans for my savings, so it does sort of sting."

Natalie Rosenfelt, who was also passing time at the Sixth & I synagogue, is a furloughed attorney for the Justice Department, where about 15.5 percent of workers are deemed non-essential.

She said it is "unfortunate that we had to get to this point," but she's "very hopeful that in the coming days, things, they will be able to come together and realize that having the government shutdown is not a great thing for the country and they will come to a resolution."

T.J. Pepping, a post-graduate intern at the Environmental Protection Agency said it's "irresponsible" of Congress and "unsettling," because there is "not a guarantee" that he and his colleagues will be "retroactively paid as they were in the past."

"A lot of my friends who aren't in DC have been asking how the vacation is going to be, but it's not a vacation, even though we have the time off so to speak, it's kind of unsettling, that there is just not a clear end to it, and I feel like a lot of the federal workers are kind of just caught up in this tug-o-war between the Congress," Pepping said.

Federal employees may be the ones feeling the squeeze of the shutdown the most, but it is also affecting tourists.

Hoffman's friend Gordon Elliott, who was on that short trip to Washington, said he was disappointed that he missed seeing the National Gallery, but was spending part of his trip looking at DC's architecture instead.

As for the shutdown, Elliot said he thinks the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, sounds like "a really good proposition and something needs to be done with the healthcare system."

Eddie Smith, who was visiting with a group of 10th grade students from North Carolina, told ABC News at Union Station they usually rely on the free attractions that Washington has to offer. All of the 19 museums of the Smithsonian Institution are free, as well as the National Zoo, and all of the monuments.

Smith said that on past trips they have relied heavily on those now-shuttered stops, but "now we're having to find things that are going to cost us a little money that we hadn't budgeted for the trip…and just not seeing the city at its best."

"We wish politicians could work together versus being so political minded towards their party that they wind up allowing something like this to happen," Smith said.

ABC News' Nicole Rossoll contributed to this story.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events