3. Shutdowns save money.
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3. Shutdowns save money.
It seems counterintuitive, but shutdowns do not necessarily save the government money. Preparing for a shutdown takes time and resources that could be spent delivering services, and any savings that are achieved are minimal compared with the size of the federal budget. In fact, shutdowns can actually cost the taxpayer, because even though furloughed workers are not working, the government traditionally pays them retroactively. The Office of Management and Budget estimated the cost of the shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 at $1.4 billion.
During the two shutdowns in the 1996 fiscal year, the government closed 368 national parks, turning away 7 million visitors; local communities lost that tourism revenue. At the same time, $3.7 billion of a total $18 billion in Washington area contracts were delayed or canceled. The halt in processing visa applications for up to 30,000 foreigners resulted in millions of dollars in losses for the tourist industry and airlines.
A lengthy shutdown, coupled with the sequester, would probably hurt, not help, economic growth.
4. Federal workers lose pay.
Some might, but not if past experience is a guide.
The president, presidential appointees, members of Congress and some career executive branch personnel are required to continue working during a shutdown. They would be paid.
Most federal employees, however, are subject to furlough and not entitled to pay. This includes rank-and-file workers as well as senior leadership. For example, a veterans benefits customer-service representative may have to stay home, as could the division’s managers, if those functions are deemed “nonessential.” (Furloughed employees continue to be credited for benefits and seniority.)
But even though furloughed workers are not legally entitled to pay, Congress has traditionally passed legislation after the fact to compensate them.
5. Shutdowns show that there are a lot of nonessential government workers.
During the November 1995 shutdown, the federal government furloughed 800,000 “nonessential” employees. Hundreds of thousands of workers were furloughed during the December 1995 shutdown, too. If we can do without those employees during a shutdown, why can’t we get rid of them entirely?
It turns out that the government’s narrow definitions of “essential” and “nonessential” don’t always match the common-sense meanings. As Treasury’s assistant secretary of management, George Munoz, testified to Congress in 1995: “These are inappropriate terms that mistakenly convey a sense of relative importance among federal employees. They perpetuate the false impression that some federal workers perform jobs that are trivial or unnecessary.”
Now, the federal government tends to use the terms “excepted” and “non-excepted” to get away from the notion that the vast ranks of feds are “nonessential.” Executive branch employees deemed excepted are required to work during a shutdown because, for example, they perform emergency services involving life or property, or they are involved in the orderly suspension of agency operations. Excepted personnel may include a National Zoo worker responsible for feeding animals, while a zoo employee who manages programming may be non-excepted. An Army information manager may be deemed non-excepted, but an agency budget officer may be considered essential because her job involves ensuring that funding lapses don’t result in overspending.
These bureaucratic terms — excepted and non-excepted — don’t make much sense to the public if a needed service can’t be delivered because the government has shut down. In those cases, pretty much everyone is considered essential.