But before we get to the data, let’s get back to the beer.
The hit on craft breweries demonstrates why confidence in government was a casualty that lasted well after the shutdown ended.
Make no mistake, beer brewers were not harmed as much as the federal contractors who did not receive back pay after the shutdown. A Partnership for Public Service report on the “Shutdown Letdown” issued last week, however, effectively uses the breweries as one example of how the shutdown let down Americans and continues to do so.
Consider the plight of Saugatuck Brewing Co. in Douglas, Mich., a scenic location on Lake Michigan. The brewery was ready to release new products for 2019 and expected necessary authorizations from the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, known in the trade as TTB, on Dec. 23.
But the day before, the shutdown began. It was welcome as warm beer on a hot day.
“We were one day away from having their approvals when the government shut down,” Megan Scheerhorn, the firm’s vice president of marketing, said by phone. That meant “we couldn’t order cans when we wanted to and we couldn’t order our labels, obviously, because we didn’t have our approvals that we needed.”
Saugatuck is running at full capacity now, but business blocked is business gone. “We can't really make up numbers that were lost to a certain extent,” Scheerhorn said.
Although in the federal government employees did get back pay, the workforce suffered in ways that could affect the public for years to come, as confidence and trust in government continue to suffer. The shutdown “contributed to the perception that the civil service is not valued and that government may not be a reliable employer,” the Partnership’s report said. Furthermore, a Government Accountability Office report in March said prolonged shutdowns damage Uncle Sam’s reputation for job security and that can “harm the government’s recruitment and retention efforts.”
Many Peace Corps volunteers, for example, want to continue their public service as federal employees, Traci DiMartini, the agency’s personnel chief, told the Partnership. “But why would they want to risk it after this? They’re told they’re not important and no one cares. Since the rhetoric against federal employees is so toxic, is it any wonder we are having a problem filling key positions?”
Trust in government has declined substantially in recent decades to near record low levels. Only 21 percent of Republicans and 14 percent of Democrats said they trust government to do what is right at least most of the time, according to Pew Research Center data released in April. Under President Lyndon Johnson, 80 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans trusted government.
Yet, when asked about 16 specific federal agencies in September, those surveyed had a favorable opinion on 14 of them, according to a Pew survey released Tuesday. The U.S. Postal Service topped the list, with a 90 percent favorable rating.
A bipartisan Senate report released last month estimated almost 15 million days or 57,000 years in productivity were lost, along with $3.7 billion in back pay for feds who did not work and $338 million in other costs during 54 days, over three partial shutdowns since 2013.
While shutdowns undermine confidence in government, they also remind taxpayers how much they rely on missed government services.
This year’s shutdown led to Internal Revenue Service hiring and training problems. That left the agency 2,000 employees short for answering taxpayer questions. In the first week after the shutdown, 93 percent of taxpayer calls regarding payment arrangements were not answered, according to March congressional testimony by Nina E. Olson, the IRS national taxpayer advocate.
Confidence in government does not easily regenerate after it deteriorates.
“This is not one of those things where you can sort of flip a switch on and off,” said Max Stier, the Partnership’s president and chief executive. “The lights don’t come back on immediately and there’s a real cost, there’s a real challenge to our government.”