10 ways the shutdown is making us less safe

In planning for shutdown, the federal government has taken some steps to keep safety-related personnel on duty. But lots of jobs are necessary to human health over the longer term — when they're undone, things bear a higher risk of falling apart. Here are a few examples.

1. Food isn't being inspected. 

Yeah, those aren't being checked. (Jason Motlagh/Washington Post)
Might want to be more careful about eating these. (Jason Motlagh/The Washington Post)

While meat and poultry inspectors are still working, the Food and Drug Administration had to furlough most of its food safety workers, which means the rest of what we import — produce, seafood, grains — isn't being as closely monitored.*

2. We're not investigating deadly transportation accidents.


Might not ever know what happened there. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

The National Transportation Safety Board isn't around to look into mishaps like the explosion on the Washington, D.C., metro over the weekend that killed one worker.

3. Airline inspectors aren't on duty. 

The Federal Aviation Administration had to furlough 3,000 people who perform safety checks on commercial airplanes to make sure everything's working right and in accordance with regulations. Although some have been recalled, the force remains weakened.

4. Weather monitoring services aren't able to communicate.


It'll just be harder to find out about this stuff. (Capital Weather Gang)

Although the National Weather Service continues to issue forecasts and warnings, its social media feeds — which have hundreds of thousands of followers — have been shut down, as have those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

5. Mines are going uninspected. 


If it looks dangerous, that's because it is. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

While the Mine Safety and Health Administration continues to investigate emergencies and fatal accidents, it's had to stop its quarterly and biannual inspections of mines, which means they could miss problems that might lead to accidents down the line.

6. Nobody's watching for disease outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control furloughed 68 percent of its staff, so it isn't able to track flu outbreaks or detect new foodborne illnesses as winter sets in.

7. Embassies aren't as well protected. 


The U.S. compound in Benghazi, post-attack. (Mohammad Hannon/AP)

The State Department says that it won't be able to put as many embassy guards on duty as it normally might — and were requested by congressional Republicans in the wake of Benghazi — making them more vulnerable to attacks.

8. Money could be leaking out to terrorists. 


It'll be harder to stop this from happening. (AP)

A Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has been severely depleted, which an official said undermines "broader efforts to combat money laundering and illicit finance, protect the integrity of the U.S. financial system, and disrupt the financial underpinnings of our adversaries." Specifically, they're unable to issue new sanctions against countries such as Syria and Iran, or even enforce those already in place.

9. We're not recalling potentially faulty products. 

No one's keeping tabs on these (L.M. Otero/Reuters)
No one's keeping tabs on these (L.M. Otero/Reuters)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission won't be able to recall all products that might pose a risk to humans, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Board isn't reviewing consumer complaints about vehicle defects that might otherwise prompt an alert.

10. Park closures force dangerous detours. 


This is my morning. (Lydia DePillis/The Washington Post)

Even if a closed national park in itself doesn't endanger humans, it will often lead people to take suboptimal alternative measures — like pulling cars off the George Washington Parkway up onto the grass at Gravelly Point because the parking lot is closed, or running through a narrow tunnel with speeding cars because a path is fenced off.

This has been clarified to better reflect the Food and Drug Administration's shutdown plan, which says 578 staff will remain to carry out some inspections. 

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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Ezra Klein · October 8, 2013