Even the threat of government shutdown carries a cost

Although the federal government avoided a shutdown this weekend, the simple threat of one has carried a cost that continues to hang over federal operations.

Current and former federal officials said that agencies have spent many hours over the past couple of weeks focusing on the possibility of shutting down, instead of those agencies focusing on their missions. Officials also say brinkmanship over suspending government operations is distracting and demoralizing to the federal workforce.

Executive editor of Federal News Network Jason Miller told WTOP that federal leaders lost serious time in preparation for a federal shutdown.

“I’ve talked to several different federal executives over the last week or so, and all of them have spent 20 hours of their 40 hour week or 30 hours out of their 50 hour week planning, doing the administrative work, thinking about (the threatened shutdown), going to meetings …” he said.

Miller added that one agency executive working in finance and budgeting found that every meeting was focused on an impending shutdown.

“Everything was looking at contracts and grants, and looking at who’s an excepted employee and who’s a non excepted employee — meeting, who’s going to be furloughed and who’s not going to be furloughed,” Miller told WTOP.

He added that the threat of a shutdown could create “a huge time suck on the day-in-and-day-out work” that agencies and organizations could put toward their mission.

There are no cost estimates for this current round of shutdown planning, but Congress, examining actual past government shutdowns in 2013, 2018 and 2019, pegged the administrative costs to be about $338 million.

‘Stop playing games with people’s lives.’

On Saturday, federal workers gathered for a picnic hosted by their union local, American Federation of Government Employees, District 14. Though they asked not to be named, some said that they’re tired of the shutdown threats and wish that Congress could find a better path toward regular funding of government operations.

“We have continuing resolutions every year — and especially during election season,” one 40-year federal employee told WTOP.

“You want to stop me from getting my paycheck because everybody in the sandbox can’t play fair or play together … you do it every year,” added another federal worker.

“Stop playing games with people’s lives and just get it together,” a third federal employee said. “This is real life stuff going on. Everybody is fighting for survival, and they’re playing politics with people’s lives.”

The continuing resolution signed by President Joe Biden with bipartisan Congressional approval will provide funding for government operations only until mid-November.

Miller said the uncertainty of what happens after that will affect workers.

“There’s still that threat that another shutdown could happen on or about Nov. 17 … I think that anxiety will rise as we get closer to that Nov. 17 deadline,” Miller said.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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