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News Story
Updated: 10/23/2013 08:00:02AM

Who was harmed by the shutdown?

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S.L. Frisbie

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Perhaps I am just a skeptic — I have been called worse — but I have been trying to identify those federal government employees for whom network anchors all but cried crocodile tears for 16 days.

Yeah, for starters the furlough was two weeks plus two days, not the “three weeks” so commonly reported.

One televised report declared that the cost to the government was $16 billion, “more than the budget of NASA.”

MSNBC’s Website, which reported the shutdown as three weeks at a cost of the widely reported $16 billion, explained later in its post that the “three weeks” actually was 16 days, and that the $16 billion might have been more like $8 billion.

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But I got to thinking. If you lay off employees and decrease services, why do your costs go up? In the Great Recession, permanent (not 16-day) layoffs in the private sector, accompanied in many cases by reductions in goods or services, were widely implemented to reduce costs, not to increase them.

While Washington maintained certain essential services, like attempting (unsuccessfully) to bar access by World War II veterans to the memorial honoring their service, and keeping the House of Representatives gymnasium in full operation, it closed access to Mount Rushmore and other national parks.

After all, we couldn’t take a chance on those wheelchair-bound WWII veterans wheeling up to Mount Rushmore and stealing those iconic images, could we?

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The mountains of North Carolina and northern Georgia are our family’s most frequent vacation destination. We can recall only one occasion when we saw a park ranger other than at a visitor information center. He (or she) was patrolling the road through Cade’s Cove.

This is not a cheap shot at the park rangers; it is a reflection of how safe and inviting our national parks are without a “cop on every corner” to preserve law and order.

Why it was deemed necessary to close down mountain parks while rangers were furloughed is not clear to me.

Threats to delay military payrolls and other such absurd austerity measures were derailed as soon as the plans were disclosed. Even Congress has that much sense.

Granted, any savings achieved through the furloughs were erased the day it ended, since the first order of business was to pay federal employees for the days spent off the job. Still, how was the cost of $16 billion, or even $8 billion, computed?

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Once again, the MSNBC site (and probably other sources) finally explained that the loss was not incurred by government.

The burden fell on the private sector, from operators of mountain resorts which were made inaccessible by park closures, to contractors and vendors who were unable to fulfill their contracts because their governmental contacts were off the job.

So by these accounts, it wasn’t government that took the hit; it was the private sector.

There, don’t you feel better now?

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(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He does not hate government. He actually held a government job for 32 years: full-time for two years in the United States Army, followed by 30 years in the Florida Army National Guard. He got a “furlough notice” only once, and went to work anyway. And yeah, he got paid for it after all.)


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