Shutdown Stupidity

The American taxpayer spent a lot of money today paying their employees not to work.


Like 700,000 or so other non-essential federal employees, I drove 45 minutes to the office for the purpose of signing paperwork telling me to go home. We’ll all be paid, eventually, for half a day’s work even though we weren’t doing the work for which we’re ostensibly being paid.

The Command and Staff College is lucky in that our curriculum allows some flexibility. Our students got today off as a “research day” while the military faculty prepped to move up a major exercise from later in the semester. It’s not ideal—the war studies (history) and security studies (political science-international relations) block that was in progress and now postponed indefinitely was designed to provide helpful intellectual preparation for the exercise—but it’s recoverable. If the shutdown is reasonably short, we’ll be able to make it work and ensure our students get the graduate education the taxpayer is sending them to receive.

Others are less fortunate. One of our Marine Corps University sister schools was in the middle of a major field exercise. It has, by law, been canceled and the students brought back to campus. Most military training around the world, I gather, has been similarly affected.

And, even at CSC, some non-essential but outstanding programs—such as an impending trip by a student delegation to participate in a wargaming exercise in Australia—have been canceled. And some of our civilian students, including those from the CIA, have been furloughed and are having to miss class.

I’m presenting at an academic conference in DC this weekend. Because it’s local and relatively inexpensive, I hadn’t bothered to put in the paperwork for the school to foot the bill. Good thing: if I had, it would be considered government work and I’d be prohibited from going during the shutdown. This has already happened to faculty members who were on official orders for professional events later this month.

None of this, of course, is the end of the world. The Republic will survive. But it’s an incredibly stupid exercise. The amount of money spent simply on contingency planning around the shutdown and the recent round of sequester-related furloughs is staggering. And that’s to say nothing of money wasted canceling perfectly valid enterprises mid-stream and bringing people back without the mission getting accomplished. Or the lost productivity caused by people speculating about the whole thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. swearyanthony says:

    What makes you think you’ll eventually be paid? Requires the congress to pass an act to do so, I don’t see them able to pass a damn thing. :/

  2. Mark Ivey says:

    Remember the scene at the end of Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just A Bill” where the people who voted “No” on Bill becoming a Law shut down the government unless the President stripped funding for this law??

    Me neither..

  3. Pharoah Narim says:

    The aroma of FREEDUM in the air is overpowering! Now the public can finally see they won’t miss a beat when the Gov’t is shut down! //END SARCASM The RedState crowd is lapping this up like cream. What a shame.

  4. john personna says:

    It’s painful but it’s necessary for a change that a minority of Americans support.

    … no, wait

  5. john personna says:

    BTW, I probably wouldn’t have the audacity to call the Marines a sister school.

  6. Nightrider says:

    I blame the House Republicans for this, but is the Obama Administration making it worse by being so rigid about shutting stuff down? Why do they have to barricade places like the WWII memorial that would be just fine unstaffed? Why do they have to care if employees answer an email or two – Anti-Deficiency Act be damned, you control DOJ. Why can’t more employees be deemed “essential”? Do you really have to unplug the panda cam? Or does the Administration want the shutdown to be as bad as it can be, to blame the GOP and/or create pressure for resolution?

  7. MattT says:

    Many are trying to blame this on a small number of extremists, but when did the Hastert Rule get ratified as an amendment to the Constitution? If the GOP majority cares about governance, what prevents 3/4 of them from turning their back on the Krazy Klown Kar Kaucus and passing a clean CR, that already represents a huge compromise by progressives, and addresses the deficit they claim to care about so much? The Senate CR is a lot closer to Paul Ryan’s budget proposal than to Obama’s.

    The NY Daily News lays this turd properly at the feet of Boehner, the most pathetic congressional “leader” in my political memory.

    via TPM

  8. john personna says:


    I agree that unplugging the pandacam is silly. Stuff like that should just be left, without special maintenance.

    (I presume someone feeds the pandas!)

  9. MattT says:

    @Nightrider: Actually, too much stuff is probably continuing to operate. Do you really want to set a precedent where the executive “makes things happen” without Congressional approval? What does that do to the power of the purse, and the separation of powers?

  10. Nightrider says:

    @MattT: There is line drawing all over the place already. Is there clear congressional authority to leave “essential” people in place, such as border guards? I don’t know the answer. My question is not whether the President can or should do something, it was a question of whether the Administration is playing politics too (on a much lesser scale) or only closing what it must? I’m just curious what people think about that.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @swearyanthony: I have severe doubts that this Congress will, as all their predecessors have, pay us for time not worked during the shutdown. But they’re legally obligated to pay us for half a day today, since we were required to report for duty.

    @john personna: I’m a the Marine Command and Staff College at Marine Corps University. Our sister schools at MCU include Marine War College, School of Advanced Warfighting, Expeditionary Warfare School, and various enlisted professional education programs.

  12. KM says:

    @Nightrider: The whole point of the shutdown is it’s done. No usage. Closed.

    If say the Memorial is just unstaffed rather then actively blocked, anyone can wander in unobserved. Do damage to the site or to themselves (hello, lawsuit!). Walk off with stuff from the gift shops as security won’t be great. Do whatever they want since there’s no attendants. This isn’t Swim at Your Own Risk, this Closed for the Season.

    The whole goddamn point is these things require funding to run and upkeep – repairs aren’t free. Instead, your basically saying that’s its OK to not pay for it but we want to use it anyways. You want a shutdown but don’t want the ill-effects.

  13. Gustopher says:

    @john personna: During a government shutdown, the congressional leadership makes a pilgrimage to visit the most trusted advisers — the pandas.

    They have to turn off the pandacam so the congressional leadership can get honest advice. Otherwise, the pandas just play for the cameras.

  14. OzarkHillbilly says:


    Or does the Administration want the shutdown to be as bad as it can be, to blame the GOP and/or create pressure for resolution?

    To be honest? If I was President? I most certainly would. And I would make it twice/three times as bad in every Republican district as it had to be. Then when Boehner and Ryan and Cruz and Gohmert began to howl about how unfair I am being I would simply reply.

    “Don’t like it? Then do your job and pass a budget.”

    Probably wouldn’t work but I would get to laugh at them all through my impeachment.

  15. Nightrider says:

    @KM: It isn’t that simple, and that’s not what I’m saying. Some things cost more money and/or require more effort to close than to keep open. And there are a whole lot of federal government activities open today regardless, that someone is going to have to pay for. Interstate highways, military, park police, etc. Not to mention all the people who are working today to decide what to close and how to close it. I’m not here to engage in more of the ridiculous blue vs red debate which is how we got into this mess in the first place. I’m wondering how the Administration is deciding what to do – what actually is the law, and what wiggle room to they have? Thankfully some for sure, or else everything would be closed, and that certainly would be a disaster.

  16. Nightrider says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Hard to blame the Dems if they did, given what they are up against.

  17. rudderpedals says:

    Quite enough pandaing out of the House already, thank you very much please.

  18. JKB says:

    Well, it is not like the taxpayers were going to get to keep that money spent today anyway.

    Waste it on shutting down the non-essential services or waste it on expensive employee conferences at the IRS, EPA, DOJ, etc. Same difference, money is still wasted and the taxpayer is still out the cash.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @JKB: Well, you certainly picked the right thread for that little outburst. Fits the thread title perfectly.

  20. KM says:

    @Nightrider: Some things cost more money and/or require more effort to close than to keep open.

    Yes, yes they do. No, they don’t have as much wiggle room as they or we would like. That’s why this whole thing is stupid and a pain in the ass. And a giant waste of money.

    You are trying to be reasonable about an unreasonable situation – minimize the bad to the little people, so to speak. Sadly, the cold hard fact is in a litigious, bureaucratic hyper-partisan nation “reasonable” is not a viable concept. Laws are written in such a way that checking emails are a crime by violating work standards or some such nonsense. You can be sued by some moron doing stunts on the Mall if appropriate action isn’t taken. Dumb. Pointless. Take it up with the law and those who wrote them – CONGRESS.

    What you are suggesting is to soften the outcome of a poor decision. Personally, I think Congress should sleep in the bed it made. You drink, you drive, you go to jail. You skip work, you slack off, you get fired. The House did this on purpose (and are celebrating!!). Why in the hell should they be spared the People’s outrage for getting the short shaft?! Let the People decide if the reality of a shutdown is worth the position their leader’s have taken. They elected them -another actions have consequences moment.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: considering that one of the damn things we’re not doing is looking for asteroids that might hit us….nor is the FAA doing airline inspection….

    Have fun, idiots!

  22. al-Ameda says:

    It’s underway now, the GOP is implementing their Third World-ification of America plan.

  23. wr says:

    @Nightrider: “Why do they have to care if employees answer an email or two – Anti-Deficiency Act be damned, you control DOJ.”

    Which gives them the right to force their employees to work for free? They’re not allowed to pay these people, so they can’t ask them to work. Period.

    You don’t like it, focus the blame where it belongs. On the House Republicans.

  24. Andy says:

    I’m furloughed as well – I’m a DoD civilian who works for an Air Force reserve unit. The Reserve and Guard will be hit hard if this goes to the weekend – most units are doing their monthly drills and losing two training days for a reservist is significant.

    And don’t get me started on the budget drills, which have sucked up a huge amount of time resources since February and will certainly continue.

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ grumpy realist

    asteroids that might hit us

    Republicans in Congress have worked hard to make sure we can’t do anything even if we see one coming.

  26. Mikey says:


    Which gives them the right to force their employees to work for free? They’re not allowed to pay these people, so they can’t ask them to work. Period.

    Sadly, it seems the essential personnel at the government office where I was working today have basically been told otherwise. One hopes they, at least, will be made whole at some point. Those straight-out furloughed will probably have to find other ways to pay their mortgages.

    This crap is making us the world’s laughingstock. It’s shameful.

  27. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    It’s your party dude.

  28. Corey Mondello says:

    “Most military training around the world, I gather, has been similarly affected.”


    Treason is punishable by death. If a death sentence is not imposed, defendants face a minimum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine (18 U.S.C.A. § 2381). A person who is convicted of treason may not hold federal office at any time thereafter.