Who Suffers the Most from Government Shutdowns?

My latest for The National Interest has posted.


My latest for The National Interest has posted.

The setup:

The federal government shutdown of 2018—or, at least, the first one—ended with only one workday missed. To the extent ordinary citizens noticed at all, they likely think it was no big deal. This is especially true with regards to the impact on the U.S. military, who they’ve been steadily assured went right on working, without so much as having to endure the hardship of missing the weekend’s NFL playoff games. In fact, however, millions of man-hours of productivity have been lost from this continuing crisis, with a real impact on readiness.

A bit from the body:

As I noted in this space after the October 2013 shutdown, the best estimates are that it costs between $2 billion and $4 billion to prepare for a government shutdown and the same amount to get back up and running. And, while this was the first actual shutdown since then, there have been more than a dozen near-shutdowns in the interim, as we continue to fund the government by continuing resolutions, often mere weeks at a time, and play a constant game of chicken with the debt ceiling.

Beyond the financial cost, of course, there is the impact on morale. DoD civilians constantly worry about being furloughed and whether the next paycheck is coming—including right before Christmas this past year. Then-Secretary Chuck Hagel declared ”we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty.” If anything, it’s gotten worse, given the frequency of the brinkmanship.

The close:

This is a great cost to the nation and its armed forces for no obvious gain. Historically, Congress has always authorized and the president always signed off on back pay for employees furloughed during a shutdown, so we’re actually paying people not to work. Like the debt ceiling, wherein Congress periodically has to authorize borrowing the money it has already voted to spend or else put the nation in peril, it’s an absurdity that needs to end.

In the meantime, we’re scheduled to go through this farce again on February 8.

Quite a bit more at the link.

FILED UNDER: Government, Published Elsewhere
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PJ says:

    There is no link.

    Also, no one suffers more than Trump.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Honestly, the only ones who suffer from a government shutdown are those who believe in good government, those who believe that government serves a public interest in many ways.

    Those who do not believe any such thing, and who want to roll it back and purposely diminish our public institutions – yes, they’re Republicans – are not bothered or hurt by a government shutdown until they realize that it some caused them some inconvenience or discomfort. In which case they’ll blame liberals for the shutdown.

  3. JKB says:

    DoD civilians constantly worry about being furloughed and whether the next paycheck is coming

    If their worry is constant then the rational behavior is to work to build up a savings and not run out to the end of their leash every month. Yes, this does mean new employees are vulnerable until they can get some cushion, but long term employees, i.e., those who’ve experienced a shutdown or threat of shutdown, should have adapted.

    However, running to a shutdown has never worked. The ones in recent memory hit Republicans with blame, until this most recent one. Perhaps both parties will learn, but that is unlikely.

  4. Andy says:

    It’s not just the shutdowns, but also the endless short-term CR’s.

    Most of my experience was in the reserve and the lack of annual appropriations have a huge impact on the reserve force and especially individual reservists. Reservists can’t plan ahead for their military duty because funding expires at the end of a CR and we can’t cut orders for after that. Often we’ll need some reserve assistance, but there’s no money to bring them in on orders. We don’t know how much we’ll actually get each year, so we can’t plan.

    Higher Headquarters hedges and holds some money from units so they can prioritize across the force during the CR period. Then, when the inevitable end of fiscal-year dump comes, it’s even larger as we scramble to try to cram as much training in as we can – assuming our reservists are available, which they often aren’t.

    The result is gross inefficiency, a lack of training, reduced readiness and a frustrated cadre of citizen soldiers/airmen/sailors/marines some of whom decide the BS isn’t worth it anymore.

    The Congress really needs to fund all the usual appropriations on an annual basis to at least keep the status quo running.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @JKB: I’m thankfully in a position where I have substantial cushion but many don’t for a variety of reasons. Regardless, the constant prospect of shutdown is stressful even aside from financial worries.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Yeah, it makes no sense. We should go back to Carter-era rules where the government doesn’t actually shut down during a shutdown. There’s really no benefit to doing so. Indeed, shutting down is more expensive than just continuing running.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    Oops. Attempts to upvote comments produce a message Error: mysql: Access denied for user’jlefkowitz’@localhost’ (using password: NO). (running WIN10, Mozilla, ESET NOD32)

    But thanks for the update, otherwise pretty nice.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @gVOR08: And everybody’s up/down vote check boxes went away when I posted the above comment.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Yeah, the plugin hadn’t been updated in years and was incompatible with the latest edition of WordPress. We’re looking for a replacement; I suspect we’ll have something in place in a couple of days.