Feds serving the public and each other

January 24, 2019

Shortly after the current partial government shutdown began, Parimal Kopardekar, a furloughed federal employee at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, was feeling detached from his colleagues. To cope with the disruption to his daily routine, he created the Shutdown Strategies Support Group, a Facebook group for all federal employees and contractors affected by the shutdown.

“The goal is to share and care about each other,” Kopardekar says. “Loneliness and detachment could cause stress in people’s lives.”

Kopardekar’s vision for the group was modest. He initially invited about a dozen NASA colleagues to join, but membership quickly grew. More than a thousand federal employees from across government are now members of the support group. Any individual with a Facebook account can join the group.

In one of the group’s first posts, Kopardekar shared advice with furloughed employees on how to manage stress during the shutdown. It includes keeping a routine, focusing on self-development, expressing gratitude, volunteering, asking for help and staying connected with family and friends. As a simple coping strategy, he suggested a simple 4.0 formula for daily success during the shutdown. With this formula, individuals receive one point for each activity they accomplish relating to pursuing self-development; exercising; maintaining a balanced diet and connecting with family, friends or community.

“This is my second shutdown, so I felt like I could provide some insights,” he says.

Kopardekar also established some ground rules for the support group: “We will not post or discuss political views or opinions,” the group’s description reads. “Simply, share and care about each other.”

According to Kopardekar, the group has served as a source of community and diversion as well as a resource for struggling federal employees seeking help. There are posts about meals that people prepared, Netflix shows they recommend and meditation practices to adopt. Members also post links to articles that include resources for furloughed employees who need financial support or housing assistance. Kopardekar has also launched a LinkedIn group called Temporary Opportunities for People Affected during the Shutdown, to connect furloughed public servants to employers offering part-time work opportunities. He also notes that employees seeking opportunities need to follow all applicable ethics rules and laws.

The support group is just one way Kopardekar has managed to alleviate his stress during the shutdown. Kopardekar enjoys his day-to-day job, where he works to design a first-of-its-kind traffic management system for the large-scale use of unmanned aerial vehicles. By 2020 there could be more than 700,000 commercial drones flying millions of times a year in low-altitude airspace to deliver packages, track storms, inspect power lines, aid search and rescue operations, and more. This expected deluge will require a sophisticated system to prevent accidents and airborne congestion. Kopardekar and his team received a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals award in 2018 for this work.

Without his daily work, he knew he needed to keep busy during the shutdown.

Despite all the benefits of the online group, he says there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. He organizes meet-ups with colleagues and works as a volunteer. Kopardekar has continued teaching online courses and helping develop curricula for business schools.

Kopardekar is grateful for how the support groups has helped him and others during this trying time.

“The best contribution anybody can have is to help other people,” he says. “That’s when you feel good about yourself too.”