Government Shutdown: What It Really Meant
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Well, that was a mess.
Welcome to life in a post-shutdown world. The birds are still singing, the sun is shining and Toecutter's Gang controls only a few miles of highway outside of Detroit. To be fair, those folks probably owned that already.
We happily managed to avoid Armageddon. That doesn't mean the shutdown was a good idea though; just because we don't feel an agency's absence within 72 hours doesn't mean it's useless after all. Programs like the EPA or FDA might do their work in regulatory obscurity, but if every drug company started labeling its products "Buyer Beware," we'd certainly miss the agency.
During the shutdown we divided up the government into essential and non-essential services. Essential services stayed online while everyone else went home to watch reruns of Jeopardy. In the aftermath, it's worth looking at where those lines were drawn. What does the government consider essential? More importantly, with future shutdowns a virtual certainty, what does it say about our priorities going forward?
Here are a few services that went dark for 16 days, compared to some that got to stay open.
Closed: The Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA is a popular whipping boy of the Right, but here they're (sort of) right. The Environmental Protection Agency's mission is regulatory. Its job is to protect us from the long-term harm of chemicals in the air, water and everywhere else, and to monitor the producers.
Emergencies rarely require the EPA. More often services such as FEMA come online to handle short-term problems and hand of long-term solutions once the danger has passed. During the government shutdown that's exactly what happened, as furloughed FEMA employees came back to help prepare for Tropical Storm Karen.
The EPA's mission is critical to America's long term health and preservation, but little of what it manages changes in the course of a week. This decision made sense.
Closed: Health services
Open: Law enforcement
I can't argue with the value of law enforcement, but the logic is applied here too narrowly.
During a shutdown, the government needs to protect life and property. Unfortunately, it works from Michael Bay's playbook. Agencies that protect us from sudden disasters like storms, nuclear meltdowns and armed robberies stay in business, as of course they should. Places that protect us from quiet killers, though, generally get the ax.
This is the case with programs like NIH's clinical trials and the CDC's disease monitoring programs. While the National Institute of Health didn't kick out any current patients, new ones got turned away at the door.
We need to expand our view of essential government services, especially if shutdowns are to become part of our political landscape. Disease kills. It may not do so as spectacularly as a tidal wave but it kills just the same, and Americans should not lose access to vital care over a budgetary snafu.