The Safety Impact of the Partial Government Shutdown

The safety impact of the partial government shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018, continues to grow. Even though the shutdown only affects 25 percent of government functions and services, few Americans will be spared at least some of its ramifications. One of the (many) widespread ripples of the partial government shutdown is its safety impact.

For Americans not among the 800,000 federal employees who are either furloughed or who continue to work without being paid, life may go on as usual – for now. But among those who are not currently collecting a paycheck for their federal jobs are those who do the work of keeping us safe.

Thousands of Secret Service agents are required to continue working without pay. Among their responsibilities are protecting the president and vice president and their families, as well as protecting former U.S. presidents. Visiting foreign heads of state also require the protection of U.S. Secret Service agents.

According to many in the Secret Service, agents are angry and full of anxiety about the shutdown.

“They are asking you to put your life on the line and not paying you — it’s ridiculous. Morale is a serious issue,” said 20-year Secret Service agent Donald Mihalek, who has served during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. “This is an incredibly stressful job that requires your full attention, and if you are standing there thinking about your mortgage, or your credit card bills, or the fact that you are burning through your savings, you are distracted, you’re not able to give 100 percent.”

The Secret Service protects 42 people in the Trump administration alone. According to The New York Times, Randolph Alles, the current director of the U.S. Secret Service agency, said in 2017 that “the sprawling Trump entourage was putting unprecedented strains on his agents, in terms of staffing and budgeting.” The shutdown only adds strain to an already over-burdened agency.

Though protection by the U.S. Secret Service may not directly impact most Americans, the safety impact of the partial government shutdown is evident in other ways. Corrections officers at federal prisons are also currently working without a paycheck, as are many agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and many members of the U.S. Coast Guard.

At U.S. airports, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are also required to come to work, though they’re not getting paid. Many have called in sick, and/or are looking for other work. The resulting understaffing, as well as lowered morale, is causing delay at major airports, as well as posing clear national security risks.

As of January 15, the partial government shutdown – now the longest in U.S. history – will be at day 25. While federal law enforcement and safety employees do their best to either continue working without compensation or navigate a furlough, bank accounts are draining, morale is plummeting, federal employees’ families are paying the price, and – what impacts us all – the safety impact of the partial government shutdown continues to become more of a threat.

Flight attendants say government shutdown threatening airline safety |
Global News [2019-01-10]

Federal workers’ paychecks on hold as partial government shutdown looms | Fox News [2019-01-10]

Trump and His National Emergency

What happens if Trump declares border crisis a national emergency? | Fox News [2019-01-05]

President Donald Trump: ‘I Could’ Declare National Emergency For Border Wall Funding | NBC News [2019-01-04]

With the U.S. government’s partial shutdown now in its third week, Donald Trump says he is considering declaring a national emergency in order to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall he campaigned on. Trump met on Friday, January 4, with senior Democrats, who continued to refuse his demand for federal funding for the wall, which, according to Trump, is a condition for Trump’s supporting funding to re-open the government. The government shutdown occurred as a result of the failure of lawmakers and Trump to reach an agreement in December on a budget bill.

When asked whether he had considered using his presidential authority to declare a state of national emergency in order to bypass Congress’ approval for funding a border wall, Trump said, “I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. That’s another way of doing it.”

Budget experts, however, say that Trump would still need for funds to be allocated by Congress, even if he could declare a national emergency.

Though a bill for funds to re-open the government passed the House on Thursday, January 3, it can’t take effect unless the GOP-controlled Senate also passes it. Senate leader Mitch McConnell has said that Republicans will not back a bill without Trump’s support.

Meanwhile, roughly 25 percent of federal government operations remain un-funded. The departments of Justice, Housing, Homeland Security, Commerce, Agriculture, the Interior, and the Treasury are heavily impacted, and national parks, left unstaffed, have begun to be hazardous to visitors. Approximately 800,000 federal employees are either furloughed, or continue to work without pay.

Many lawmakers and legal experts say that Trump does not have the authority to declare a state of national emergency in order to build a border wall.

Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif), said, “Look, if Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border.”

Adam Smith, incoming House Armed Services Committee chair, said Trump may have the authority, but that it would be challenged. “In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, ‘Where is the emergency?’ …You have to establish that in order to do this.”

On the other hand, Trump has said the partial government shutdown could go on “for a very long time,” perhaps even years.

“If we don’t find a solution,” said Trump, “It’s going to go on for a long time. There’s not going to be any bend right here.”

With that said, if Trump has the authority to declare a state of national emergency in order to fund and build his border wall, one might wonder why he doesn’t just go ahead and do it.