PolitiFact tells us that for the military, the defense of the nation goes on:
Active-duty military personnel have always been required to work through shutdowns. Army troops don’t abandon their posts and naval ships don’t all return to port. In addition, many civilian workers in the Defense Department have been required to work through shutdowns.Other civilian workers in the Defense Department, however, hold jobs that do not meet the urgency threshold to keep working. In 2013, the government furloughed about half of its civilian workers, or about 400,000 employees, leaving a patchwork of various permissible and impermissible activities, according to Federal News Radio.
The “essential” designation for civilians throughout the government is hardly self-evident. The White House needs to give direction as to how broadly or narrowly to interpret “essential.” The doctors at a Veterans Affairs hospital are almost certainly essential, but what about the clerk who orders medicine or the doctors providing non-emergency services?
The Post reports that even basic decisions have not yet been made. “With government funding set to expire at midnight Friday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was still working with White House and National Park Service officials to develop a plan for keeping open parks from the District to Montana without rangers or other staff on site.”
Each government agency and department must go through every category of employee and decide who stays and who goes. Obviously, preparations to shut down the government (everything from warning notices to building security to halting payment of vendors) must be arranged in advance. Then to reopen the government, an orderly process must be adopted as well. Is the federal government ready for all this?
According to Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service (which among other things teams up with The Post to track the status of political appointees), tells me it’s not easy to bring the federal government to a halt — or to restart it. He says that “preparations for a shutdown are arduous and have not been sufficiently undertaken.”
One can expect regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to curtail enforcement activities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cease some of its disease surveillance during one of the worst flu seasons in years. National Parks will close, passport applications will not be processed, small businesses will not receive financing and multiple services for veterans will be curtailed.In addition, it has been estimated by S&P Global analysts that a shutdown would cost the economy about $6.5 billion a week. If it lasts an extended period of time, a shutdown could even slow the nation’s economic momentum.
Congress’s utter dysfunction is wasting the taxpayers’ money and depriving taxpayers of the functional government their dollars have paid for.
There is a bigger issue at play here, even aside from the possible shutdown. The repeated use of continuing resolutions in lieu of a budget means agencies and departments (including the military) don’t get the full year of funding they were promised. (Try building three-fourths of an airplane.) Rather than budgeting and paying appropriate rates for goods and services to be used over the course of a year, the federal government must do so in increments of a few weeks. In essence, it is buying bread by the slice rather than purchasing loaves of bread at the wholesale rate. Stier explains:
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was more direct, commenting in December that continued budget ambiguity since 2011 has cost his service a staggering $4 billion due to stalled acquisition programs and deferred maintenance. He said it also has resulted in operational inefficiencies and hurt troop readiness.“We have put $4 billion in a trash can, poured lighter fluid on it and burned it,” Spencer said. “Four billion is enough to buy a squadron of F-35s, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 3,000 Harpoon missiles. It’s enough money to buy us additional capacity that we need. Instead, it’s lost because of inefficiency in the ways of the continuing resolution.”
All of this is an argument for banishing dysfunctional lawmakers in the majority who with a president of the same party have been given custody over the federal government. If they care so little about its operation and effectiveness, they should turn it over to the other party. At the very least, this argues for a two-year budget to reduce the number of these incidents and to allow for reasonable planning.
If he were the chief executive of a private company, the president who was supposed to make government run like a business would be fired. In this case, that would only be a partial solution.