Real Costs of Government Shutdowns
The United States Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has released a report documenting the costs of the last three government shutdowns. Upon surveying 26 federal agencies, the investigation estimated the overall cost to American taxpayers at nearly $4 billion. The back pay to federal workers alone cost at least $3.7 billion. In addition to other administrative costs associated with the shutdowns, the report estimated 56,938 years of lost productivity due to the combined total of all furlough days.
Furthermore, federal agencies reported they were unable to perform important functions during shutdowns, including:
- The Department of Justice along with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission suspended a number of significant criminal investigations;
- The Department of Justice cancelled 60,000 immigration hearings for non-detained aliens, which likely extended immigration waiting times;
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission delayed outstanding decisions regarding the recall of potentially dangerous consumer products;
- National Parks were either closed or unattended leaving potentially lost or injured park visitors without help;
- The Smithsonian Institution closed museums, which resulted in revenue losses from tourism.
Significantly, some agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency did not know the full amount paid to employees in back pay following certain shutdowns. Furthermore, other agencies could not provide information on administrative costs, lost revenues, project delays, and other associated expenses. As such, the actual shutdown costs could far exceed the provided estimates.
In order to minimize future effects of potential shutdowns, the Subcommittee provided the following recommendations:
- Congress should resume its annual budget responsibilities to streamline appropriation processes in the House of Representatives and Senate;
- Congress should pass legislation to permanently prevent the federal government from shutting down through an automatic continuing or existing resolution;
- The Office of Management and Budget should examine agencies that were unable to provide information on the cost of the last three shutdowns.
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