Taxpayers Suffer the Most in a Government Shutdown

Press Release January 18, 2018

Washington, D.C. – Refusing to keep the federal government open for business would be a failure of basic governing and an unnecessary disruption to all Americans who rely on federal workers every day, said Tony Reardon, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union.

“Declaring a government shutdown as harmful to American taxpayers is not alarmist speculation, it is documented fact,” Reardon said.  “Shutdowns waste money, interrupt services that taxpayers deserve and chip away the public’s faith that Congress and the administration know what they’re doing.”

Funding for government operations expires at midnight Friday, Jan. 19, unless Congress and the president reach an agreement before then.

“We are now facing a fourth shutdown threat in a fiscal year that is less than four months old,” Reardon said. “The American people know how ridiculous this situation is and are demanding that our elected officials get it together, do their job and appropriate adequate funding to keep federal agencies functioning.”

The 16-day shutdown in 2013 provided plenty of proof that taxpayers stop getting what they pay for when agencies close their doors.

Here is a brief summary of what happened at some NTEU-represented agencies during the 2013 shutdown: the National Park Service closed parks and monuments to tourists; the Internal Revenue Service was unable to verify government income for banks trying to lend money to people and small businesses; the Food and Drug Administration delayed approvals of new medical products, devices, and drugs; the Environmental Protection Agency halted inspections at hazardous waste facilities, chemical facilities, and drinking water systems; and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stopped non-emergency reactor licensing and emergency preparedness exercises.

“A locked door at the Smithsonian museums is a jarring public display of how a shutdown affects taxpaying tourists, but don’t forget there are thousands of federal employees doing important work behind the scenes who would be locked out of their offices, too,” Reardon said.

The IRS, which has lost $900 million and nearly 21,000 full-time employees since 2010, is a prime example. The tax filing season opens in 11 days and the largest overhaul to the tax code in three decades needs implementation, yet 87 percent of the IRS employees would be sent home in a shutdown.

“If there is a shutdown and this important work is delayed, I hope people call Congress and the administration to complain, because that is who will be at fault, not federal workers,” Reardon said.

Federal employees -- nonpartisan, middle-class professionals who believe in public service -- also suffer during shutdowns. Some of them are forced to work without pay, such as Customs and Border Protection employees who process travelers and cargo at the 328 ports of entry.

Employees who are furloughed don’t know when or if they will be paid, which puts an immediate financial strain on them and their families.

During the shutdown in 2013 when federal employees went two weeks without pay, NTEU surveyed its membership and found 84 percent had cut back on necessities and 72 percent went further into debt. At the peak of the shutdown, 850,000 federal employees were forced into unpaid work furloughs.

The current legislative proposal for a one-month extension on spending is not ideal because short-term continuing resolutions force agencies to constantly prepare for the possibility of a shutdown and hamstring their ability to do any longer-term budgeting or planning.

“If a stop-gap spending provision is approved, we hope Congress and the administration use the next few weeks to settle their policy differences and agree on government spending levels that keep our agencies open through the rest of the fiscal year,” Reardon said.

NTEU strongly urges Congress to approve the Federal Employee Fair Treatment Act (S. 2274), which would make sure that federal workers who are furloughed or forced to work without pay during the shutdown are compensated fully and quickly when the government re-opens, regardless of the next regularly scheduled pay date. It would also allow those who are required to work during a shutdown to take scheduled annual leave and sick leave while the government remains closed.

NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 32 federal agencies and departments.