Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Tom Carper, D-Delaware, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, unveiled Sept. 17 a new bipartisan report that documents the cost to American taxpayers of the past three government shutdowns and the impact they had on the economy and core government functions.
The largest direct cost of these shutdowns is lost productivity, work not performed by furloughed federal employees. In the past five years, the federal government has been fully or partially shut down for 52 days, costing taxpayers nearly $4 billion — at least $3.6 billion in back pay to federal workers who were furloughed and prohibited from going to work, and at least $338 million in other costs associated with the shutdowns, including extra administrative work, lost revenue, and late fees on interest payments. Moreover, the total amount of combined employee furlough days represents an estimated 56,938 years of lost productivity.
The subcommittee based its cost estimate of nearly $4 billion on the information provided by 26 federal agencies. However, some agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Justice, Commerce and the EPA were unable to provide basic information about employee furloughs, including back pay, for certain shutdowns. In addition, some agencies were unable to provide information about additional costs and impacts associated with the shutdowns, so the total cost is likely higher. This raises serious questions about those agencies’ ability to perform effective oversight of its own employees. The report also makes several recommendations, including for Congress to enact an automatic continuing resolution to permanently prevent federal government shutdowns.
“Government shutdowns are avoidable failures of governance that hemorrhage taxpayer dollars, put our nation’s federal agencies in organizational and financial disarray and pose risks to our national security,” said Carper. “The impacts can be felt in every corner of our country, in red states and blue states alike. The effects and costs of a government shutdown are often far-reaching, long-lasting and immeasurable — and that’s exactly what our bipartisan report shows. We found that the last three government shutdowns cost taxpayers nearly $4 billion in back pay to federal workers and an estimated 56,938 years of productivity were lost — this does not even account for the federal agencies that did not have the necessary data to calculate their losses. I hope this report serves as a reminder to the President and Congress about the real consequences and costs to taxpayers when we do not do our jobs. Now, Congress has a few weeks to work together to fund the government to avoid another shutdown. Democrats and Republicans must come together, stop governing through continuing resolutions that are woefully inefficient, and do our most basic job by ensuring that our government has the funds it needs to operate.”
In addition to the cost to taxpayers, the report highlights the impact of these shutdowns on the nation’s economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the most recent shutdown reduced economic growth by a combined $11 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Moreover, CBO projected that the economy would have grown faster in the first quarter of 2019 were it not for the government shutdown, finding that if the shutdown had been prevented, first quarter GDP growth would have been 3.5% instead of 3.1%.
The report’s key findings include:
— The three government shutdowns in the past five years cost the taxpayers nearly $4 billion in back pay to federal workers and other costs associated with shutdown impacts such as extra administrative work, lost revenue, project delays, and late payment fees. Since federal workers were furloughed and unable to work during the shutdowns, taxpayers lost the equivalent of 56,938 years of work.
— The Department of Justice cancelled approximately 60,000 immigration hearings for non-detained aliens scheduled to take place during the fiscal 2019 shutdown.
— The Department of Homeland Security delayed facility maintenance activities, which had a serious impact on law enforcement officer operations and safety, including at the border. The lack of these critical maintenance and repair services endangered the lives of law enforcement officers and created significant border security vulnerabilities.
— The Consumer Product Safety Commission suspended efforts to keep potentially unsafe products off the market. All CPSC import surveillance activities were suspended; no potentially dangerous shipments from abroad were stopped at U.S. ports because CPSC port inspectors were furloughed and unable to screen thousands of products, including children’s merchandise that could contain excessive lead and sleepwear that may violate flammability standards.
— The Federal Aviation Administration furloughed most of its aviation safety inspectors who are responsible for the certification of new aircraft, as well as for the oversight of pilots and aircraft maintenance.
— The Small Business Administration was unable to administer many programs that make capital available to small business owners who would otherwise be unable to access capital through conventional means.
— The National Park Service was unable to provide adequate daily maintenance at certain parks, resulting in trash buildup, vandalism, trespassing and destruction of the natural environment at those parks.
The report makes the following recommendations:
— Resume the annual budget process. Congress should resume its annual budget responsibilities to better help House of Representatives and Senate appropriators provide funding for federal agencies on an annual basis. This allows federal agencies to plan for the fiscal year ahead and helps avoids any possibility of a lapse in funding resulting in a government shutdown.
— Enact an automatic CR. Congress should pass legislation to permanently prevent the federal government from shutting down through an automatic CR for any regular appropriations bill or existing CR, thereby ensuring that essential government services are not disrupted and protecting American taxpayers who must bear the resulting cost. This would also ensure federal workers were able to continue working.
— OMB should review financial controls at federal agencies. The Office of Management and Budget should examine the financial management policies and practices at agencies that were unable to provide the Subcommittee with complete information on the cost of the last three shutdowns. The OMB director should then report to Congress on any legislation necessary to ensure senior agency officials have access to timely and accurate financial data they need.