By Alex Zoellner ‘19
On Saturday, December 22, the federal government initiated what is known as a “government shutdown.” Although, what is a government shutdown and what does it entail? According to Mr. Chris Walsweer, “A government shutdown is the impasse by which a budget cannot be agreed upon by both Congress and the President.” So, what else should one know about government shutdowns? A government shutdown, in other countries such as Belgium and the UK, can also occur when no political party can form or is in control of the government and said nation does not return to the polls, to establish such things. In the U.S, there there have been a total 22 funding gaps in the federal budget, but only 10 of these have resulted in federal employees being furloughed.
Such shutdowns, and subsequent actions, can also occur on the state, territorial, and local levels of government. Regardless of the tier of government, at which the shutdown occurs, there is no definitive limit to the amount of time said shutdown can last. This is where the real power of a government shutdown can last. From the perspective of a politician responsible for a government shutdown, it is very bad for one’s reputation to be voluntarily furloughing and/or making federal employees work for delayed pay. On the flip side, as a federal employee, one has very little idea as to how he or she will be affected by a government shutdown, as the extent to which the government shutdown is largely circumstantial. With this most recent shutdown, which was the longest in U.S. history at 35 days, 380,000 federal employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were required to work with delayed pay till the end of the shutdown. In reality, these 800,000 federal employees that were affected, totaled only about 38% of the 2.1 million civilian non-postal federal employees. As such, the effects of this most recent shutdown weren’t fully felt by non-federal employees. The federal employees that were fully affected by the shutdown included, but were not limited to; TSA staff, Border Patrol, National Park Service staff, and members of the Coast Guard.
As such, the severity of this shutdown was due largely in part to the vast controversy surrounding the President, the length of the shutdown relative to the backpay (which was guaranteed) for federal employees, and certain departments being largely furloughed without actually closing those departments and/or areas. One such example of this would be the United States Department of the Interior, especially the National Park Service (NPS). During the 2018-2019 government shutdown, almost all NPS employees were furloughed but the majority of the national parks across the country were open. As such, a large portion of the National Park’s patrons continued to visit the parks. But, what would happen if there was no one to collect and dispose of the garbage and natural waste in the parks? What would happen if there was no one to monitor the monuments, areas of strict conservation, and historical sites? What would happen if there were minimal to no search and rescue workers in the national parks? Well, garbage and human waste piled up endlessly posing both a health and environmental hazard, a substantial amount of new graffiti appeared along with the destruction of conservation efforts both environmentally and historically, and several people died.
But not everyone goes to the national parks. How did it affect the workers and then, by association, the rest of society? Well, Mrs. Heidi Kabadi says that “Well, when you’re thinking so, it’s 800,000 employees. We’re a country of 330 million people. So in the grand scheme of things, it was a small slice. I honestly didn’t know anybody personally, that was even impacted by it, other than us as citizens not being able to access services that we should be able to. For example, to file tax returns. For me, I needed to apply for passports for my family, the passports offices were shut down. So things like that, as citizens, impacts us more. As far as being a government employee, and being impacted, I didn’t know anyone that was directly impacted.”
Ultimately, on January 25th, the 2018-2019 government shutdown came to an end with Congress unanimously voting to end the shutdown through February 15, after Trump agreed to reopen federal agencies with no guarantee for funding towards the wall. However, the purpose of this ceasefire was to allow for a House-Senate conference committee to finalize a security plan for the Mexican border. Which legitimizes the reality of yet another shutdown but, with the passage of time, this reality dwindles.