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Government shutdowns could become the norm, now that we’ve moved into three-week budget cycles.

So we should develop a better protocol for determining which federal workers stay on the job during a shutdown and which are furloughed.

Workers identified as essential — Transportation Security Administration agents, Federal Aviation Administration employees, Veterans Affairs hospital workers, etc. — have to come to work, but don’t get paid. At least not right away. After a spending deal is reached, they generally receive their pay retroactively.

Workers deemed non-essential, and that’s the great bulk of the federal bureaucracy, don’t report to their jobs. But, like their essential counterparts, they will eventually get their pay retroactively, even though they didn’t do any work during the shutdown.

The furlough, then, amounts to extra paid vacation for the non-essential workers. That seems unfair to the essential folks.

And to the taxpayers.

Certainly, these furloughed federal employees have no control over the situation, and most would probably rather be at their posts during the shutdown than go through the hassle of restarting their operations afterward.

But if they are eventually going to be paid for the time anyway, they should remain on the job. Taxpayers should not be dinged for the salaries of workers who didn’t work.

Non-essential employees should be given the choice: stay on the job during the shutdown and get paid retroactively, or stay home and forfeit the pay. Government employees shouldn’t be punished for Congress’ incompetence; but nor should they get a windfall.

With government operations continuing, politicians would lose some of the leverage that comes with inconveniencing taxpayers who can’t visit national parks or get a passport. If the public doesn’t suffer, the political blame gaming isn’t as effective.

That might make the tactic less attractive for those seeking to gain a political edge from public anger.

Keep the federal workforce on the job, and pay them later. Except for Congress members. They shouldn’t be paid again until they get an actual annual budget in place, which is their essential job assignment.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.

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