If you could put a price tag on confusion and chaos, putting the government on hold Friday cost the taxpayers roughly $88 million.
Most of the government's 2.8 million workers reported for duty as usual Friday morning. But because it was the start of the new fiscal year, agencies were technically broke since Congress had not approved their budgets for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
Many feds were told that according to law they were not supposed to do anything unless it involved the "orderly" shutdown of operations. Once that was completed, some sent people home.
The FBI continued to chase crooks. Air traffic was controlled as usual. So-called essential operations -- those dealing with health, safety and defense -- can go on even while budgets are temporarily in purgatory.
Friday's exercise was ridiculous for the nation's taxpayers, particularly for the several million who happen to be civil servants. Lots of them were angry. More were confused. They called each other; they called friends on Capitol Hill and in other agencies to find out what was happening.
One man who called this office, from Tampa, Fla., said "we can't figure out whether to stay here or go home. You wouldn't believe the amount of time that is being wasted by people trying to find out what is going on. I'm one of them."
A government employe in Denver called to say, "All we are doing is listening to the radio, trying to find out if we are supposed to be here or go home, and do we come in to work Monday? We've performed the shutdown stuff. Is everybody crazy in Washington?" On second thought, he said, don't bother to answer that one.
A fed in New York said "half the people in this building have gone home, been sent home. We don't know what we are supposed to do. How can the government let itself run out of money?"
Calls came all day long, from Washington and from out of town. A lot of time was wasted, and nobody got a satisfactory answer.
Last time the government went into a shutdown mode, because of a similar budget crunch, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) asked the General Accounting Office to figure out what it costs the taxpayers to fund daily operations of a government that isn't allowed to work. GAO advised her that cost was around $88 million, mostly in salaries paid to people who were legally obligated not to perform their duties because lawmakers, who have been kicking the stuffing out of feds for being overpaid, underworked and lazy, had not finished their budget chores.
I hope the guy from Denver calls back Monday!