Nobody can waste big money doing nothing like Uncle Sam.

When the government shuts down, even partially, because the White House and Congress don’t do their jobs, its work doesn’t get done. But the costs for doing nothing are enormous. 

bipartisan Senate report estimates that three partial government shutdowns in the past five years cost taxpayers $3.7 billion in backpay, $338 million in other costs, and almost 15 million days or 57,000 years in lost productivity. 

This does not include the overall hit to the economy. The five-week shutdown that ended in January stole $3 billion from the economy that will not be recovered, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

“Federal government shutdowns don’t save money. They actually cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “It’s time to end government shutdowns for good.”

Portman is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He released the report Tuesday along with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the panel. 

Their estimates are low. 

Major agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Departments of Agriculture, Justice and Commerce; and the Defense Department, the largest federal agency, could not or did not provide complete shutdown data, including on backpay. 

“This raises serious questions about those agencies’ ability to perform effective oversight of its own employees,” a subcommittee statement said.

“Government shutdowns are avoidable failures of governance that hemorrhage taxpayer dollars, put our nation’s federal agencies in organizational and financial disarray and pose risks to our national security. The impacts can be felt in every corner of our country, in red states and blue states alike,” Carper said in the statement. “I hope this report serves as a reminder to the President and Congress about the real consequences and costs to taxpayers when we do not do our jobs.”

No one needs that reminder more than President Trump. 

His 35-day shutdown, from December 2018 through most of January, began 11 days after his televised statement in which he said, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

The other closures included in the report lasted 16 days in October 2013 and three days in January 2018, for a total of 54 days that many federal employees were prohibited from serving the public.

No one is hurt more by government shutdowns than government employees. In addition to losing the services that affect all Americans, they also face the uncertainty and tension that come without wages until backpay is approved.

“The financial cost was enormous, but the human cost was even higher,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “The stress on families, kids, marriages, the homes and cars lost, the medical care forgone — shutdowns are nothing but pain and loss.”

“The American people need to know how much they are getting cheated when politicians can’t find a way to reach compromise and keep the federal government running,” added Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “Federal workers just want to come to work and do their jobs. Shutdowns keep them from doing that. Federal workers hate government shutdowns.”

 The White House Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.

Shutdowns happen when the president and Congress cannot agree on funding for agencies. Government budgets should be enacted by Oct. 1 each year, but that has not happened in more than 20 years. Instead, the government has been funded through temporary measures, called continuing resolutions, that have lasted from one day to a full fiscal year, according to the report.

But Congress too often can’t even agree on temporary funding in time to keep agencies open. With no funding, agencies are required to close many operations. When that happens, people and services hurt. 

The subcommittee compiled a list of what happens to services during shutdowns, including: 

  • ●Canceling immigration hearings by the Justice Department.
  • ●Suspending recalls of dangerous products by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • ●Closing Internal Revenue Service walk-in assistance centers.
  • ●Stopping Food and Drug Administration work on food safety, medical equipment and vaccines.
  • ●Halting Small Business Administration assistance to small companies.
  • ●Ceasing National Transportation Safety Board accident investigations.
  • ●Blocking U.S. Geological Survey work against invasive species endangering the Great Lakes.
  • ●Shutting Department of Veterans Affairs hotlines, vocational rehabilitation and educational services. 

To avoid shutdowns, Portman and Carper said, Congress should maintain a regular, annual budget process to allow federal agencies to effectively plan and to avoid “any possibility of a lapse in funding,” and establish automatic short-term funding measures for agencies whose budgets are not approved.

 The government’s next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, which means another shutdown threat looms.

 “Now, Congress has three few weeks to work together to fund the government to avoid another shutdown,” Carper said. “Democrats and Republicans must come together, stop governing through continuing resolutions that are woefully inefficient, and do our most basic job by ensuring that our government has the funds it needs to operate.”

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