1995 Government Shutdown

November 14, 1995, was the day the Federal Government shut down.  I was at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, and was supposed to leave on that day to drive to Rome to take up my new assignment at the American Embassy there.  Everything had been moved out of our house in Poland and shipped to Rome, except for what was packed in the car, which included our two dogs.  Just about half an hour before I was to leave Warsaw, I got a call from Rome, saying, “Don’t leave.”  I had no place to go except to live in the car or check into a hotel, with most of my belongings, including most of my clothes, en route to Rome.

I was furious and called Rome to get them to rescind the order, but they wouldn’t.  Then I found out that the number two officer in Rome, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), was a friend I had served with in Brasilia, Brazil.  I called him, and he agreed to unfurlough me and allow me to travel to Rome.  When I arrived in Rome, I didn’t know anything about my job, such as who my Italian contacts were, but I was the only one in the office who was not furloughed.  I had to carry out the duties of the office while the shutdown continued.

I was doubly angry because it had not been my idea to move from Warsaw to Rome.  The State Department in Washington had asked me to go because the Science Counselor in Rome had reached the end of his temporary assignment to the State Department and had to leave.  Just as he was leaving, Italy was assuming the rotating Presidency of the European Union, which meant an increase in work for the embassy because the Embassy and the Italian Government would have to deal with all EU issues as well as the normal bilateral issues between the US and Italy.

I’m still not sure what happened, but I think that Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew and the State Department had a running feud because the State Department would not approve permanent status for the Ambassador’s friend who had been serving as Science Counselor.  Thus, I arrived apparently imposed on the Ambassador by the State Department in Washington, and he did not want me.  As a result, my wife and I had to stay in temporary housing for months because the embassy could not find a place for us to live permanently.

I think that because the Foreign Service had refused to accept the Ambassador’s friend into its permanent ranks, the Ambassador wanted to prevent the Foreign Service (me) from filling the job.  Thus he identified a civil service employee in Washington whom he wanted to fill the job.  Ironically this man worked in the office that was supposed to support Foreign Service science officers in the field.  He ended up displacing a Foreign Service officer (me) whom he should have been supporting.

In any case, the episode led to my retiring from the Foreign Service, which I felt had stabbed me in the back.  The whole business, the government shutdown and the antagonism from the embassy staff left a bad taste in my mouth, although I had enjoyed most of my career in the Foreign Service.  It was a disappointing way to leave, and the government shutdown played a memorable, nasty role in my retirement.

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