The Government Shutdown Isn’t Just a Beltway Phenomenon

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

What’s Being Interrupted During This Government Shutdown

Last week, Jonah Goldberg wrote in his weekly newsletter:

When writing a letter to many thousands of people, it’s hard to narrowcast to a relatively few individuals. But those individuals know who they are. In the last week, in e-mails, comments sections, and on Twitter, I’ve heard from lots of people who think that because I am not swept up in Cruz-mania that I am therefore a sell-out, a fake conservative, a coward (or even a pro-Confederacy, Nazi-stooge Royalist).

Look, I’m a big boy (“literally and figuratively” — the Couch), and I’ve been through this more times than I can count. But that doesn’t mean it becomes any less insulting or dispiriting. I’m not trying to play the martyr, and I fully recognize that the issues here are mountains and my personal feelings are a grain of sand in comparison. But when people who’ve been reading and corresponding with me for years glibly accuse me of abandoning my principles out of a desire to get more invitations to “cocktail parties” it pisses me off.

Earlier this week someone commented on Campaign Spot, asking how I could complain about the shutdown leaving “800,000 bureaucrats” out of work.

The 800,000 folks not reporting to work this morning aren’t all bureaucrats, and you don’t help the cause of the Right if you run around insisting they are.

Dave from Garfield Ridge, a contributor at Ace of Spades, offered some perspective on what “essential” and “nonessential” really means:

I’m a federal civilian employed by the Department of Defense here in Washington, D.C. In my personal life, I consider myself a small-government conservative with a strong libertarian streak — essentially, your stereotypical Tea Partier.

And I’ve just been furloughed, thanks to the shutdown . . . 

Now, every time there’s a weather, sequester or shutdown-related furlough, some of my friends on the Right inevitably snark, “If they’re non-essential, why don’t we just fire them all?” Alas, contrary to the (well-intentioned!) snark seen across the blogosphere of the Right, “non-essential” is NOT synonymous with “unnecessary.”

To explain, here’s an analogy: when a naval vessel is in port, there is a skeleton crew that mans the ship. These personnel — let’s call them “essential” — ensure that their ship doesn’t rust, doesn’t sink, and doesn’t get sabotaged. They can’t sail the ship, however, nor can they enter battle. This band of few, of happy few, are far removed from the full complement required to fight the ship.

On paper, that’s the difference between the government’s definition of “essential” versus “non-essential” employees. Essential employees can keep the government running, but they can’t run the government *well*. The non-essential employees are required to run the government at full effectiveness.

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s Jolt, the government workers who have been sent home without pay come in three varieties: genuine wastes of money and space, genuine necessary employees who are misclassified, and folks somewhere in between.

Perhaps the most extreme example of a necessary expenditure being interrupted is the death benefits — usually $100,000 — won’t be paid immediately to the families of U.S. troops who die during the shutdown.

Believe it or not, there are some folks who get so swept up in the fury about government waste, that they shrug their shoulders at this. When I mentioned the death benefit interruption, someone responded on Twitter, “Delayed. Big deal.”

When someone in uniform makes the ultimate sacrifice for our country, I don’t want any @$#$^% delays in taking care of their family.

Are the regular day-to-day staffers at the Smithsonian museums “bureaucrats”? How about the folks working on this year’s flu vaccine at the Centers for Disease Control?

I keep hearing that my disdain for the shutdown reflects an “inside the Beltway” attitude, that somehow my view of things is reflected by all the “bureaucrats” around me.

Does the term “bureaucrat” accurately label all of the 3,100 workers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston?

How about criminal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys’ offices in places like Columbia, South Carolina, Charleston, West Virginia, and Concord, New Hampshire?

How about the National Transportation Safety Board plane-crash investigators stationed in Alaska?

How about the 510 civilian employees sent home at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona?

How about the 142 secretaries, maintenance-staff members and civilian library workers at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut?

How about the 12,000 workers at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama?

Or the 2,000 of the civilian employees at Air Force Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and 4,900 civilian employees at Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado?

The Pentagon has even had to furlough 234 contract Catholic priests and non-active-duty priests.

There’s a chance these civilian Department of Defense workers will go back to work soon:

In a letter sent Tuesday to Hagel, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services committee, told Hagel that DOD civilians who are currently sitting at home are actually authorized to work by the new law.

“I believe the legislation provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it,” McKeon wrote. “The text does not limit the provision of pay to civilians who were previously categorized by the Administration as “excepted” or “essential.” . . . Therefore, I strongly encourage you to use the authority Congress has given you to keep national security running, rather than keeping defense civilians at home when they are authorized to work.”

We don’t know the impact precise impact on the intelligence community; after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave a seriously inaccurate answer while testifying under oath, he’s earned some skepticism. But he claims:

But figures released this week by Clapper’s office indicate that 72 percent of the intelligence community’s civilian workforce has been temporarily sent home, creating holes in virtually every agency and department.

Assume Clapper is exaggerating it by saying it’s twice as bad as it really is. That’s still 36 percent of the civilian workforce. That’s CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office (otherwise known as ‘That Other NRO’, running the spy satellites), the Office of Naval Intelligence, FBI, DEA, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research . . . 

Believe me, I’m vehemently anti-bureaucrat. But the shutdown doesn’t get rid of them. It just puts them on unpaid leave (with a possibility of back pay).

But this doesn’t even save money.

The 1996 shutdowns cost an estimated $2 billion, according to the CRS report, and “created numerous backlogs in government services that will, in many cases, take months to overcome and will slow the delivery of future services.”

Why? One reason is that the workload doesn’t diminish. It just builds up. So new enrollees into Social Security and Medicare as well as passport applications would probably not be processed, but federal employees would have to work through that backlog when the government reopens.

And all those federal salaries that aren’t being paid? No savings are likely. Although furloughed workers are not guaranteed reimbursement, in past shutdowns they have received retrospective compensation for hours lost.

Then there’s the lost revenue. Tourist attractions, including museums, zoos and national parks, are among those government operations that would close under the shutdown. There’s also the lost tax revenue from the lost business to restaurant, hotel, and travel industries. The CRS says 9 million tourists were not able to visit federal monuments and other government operations during the 1996 shutdowns. That added up to millions of dollars of lost revenue to nearby business, resulting in lost tax dollars.

Then of course, there’s the domino effect on the private sector. Like with Sikorsky helicopter manufacturers:

United Technologies, Sikorsky’s parent company, said on its website that if the shutdown continues through next week, UTC’s Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems units would be affected, and company-wide furloughs would double to include 4,000 workers.

This morning, appearing on C-SPAN, our Bob Costa — perhaps the best-connected Capitol Hill reporter in this whole shutdown coverage — said it looks like this shutdown will go on for another two weeks at least.

Dave in Garfield Ridge concludes his post:

And now, today, I’m out of that job. All because politicians are making a gamble that may not even pay off.

I would be THRILLED to lose paychecks in return for delaying the ACA. I’ll gladly pay that price, for I know it would save millions of my fellow citizens the money and headache of complying with a disastrous law. Take my job, please, and get rid of this abomination.

But who genuinely believes this will work? I fear that it won’t. I fear that I, and many others, will have sacrificed pay — and not performed our jobs as public servants, serving each of you — in sacrifice for nothing much gained at all.

So, GOP? Conservatives? Sequester, shutdown, now that we’re finally here, I’ll support anything the team does, I’ll pay any price . . . just win something already, okay?

So what is the win that Republicans will get for all this grief and aggravation?

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