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The Safety Costs of the Federal Government Shutdown

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Have you ever been to a foreign country with a non-functioning or barely functioning government? If you have you are very likely to have that unsettled feeling that you are not safe as you are in the United States. Lack of safety rails, super-dangerous roads, people riding on the outside of vehicles as they speed down the roads, trash building up on the streets, airports with runways so short that the slightest error could leave a passenger plane in the ocean or clipping trees… at all tells you that you are not as safe as you could and should be. While the news of the continued shutdown has focused on the hundreds of thousands of families in our government who won’t get paid and on the federal projects that sit vacant often subjected to damage from winter weather, today I want to focus on the safety cost that we each pay while the operation of the federal government is at an impasse.

Time magazine today ran a story about how investigation of a deadly crash in Florida is being delayed because of the government shutdown. Seven people including five children heading to Disney World were killed in the fiery 18 wheeler collision. A federal agency, the NTSB or National Transportation Safety Board is tasked with determining the cause of significant highway, railroad and aviation accidents. This agency is essentially out of business. Many of the rules and processes that big rigs must follow, that airlines must follow, that railroads must follow are born out of the causation analysis performed by your government. Without this agency performing these functions, we risk not learning the lessons which usually have already cost people their lives. It is how we improve safety.

Other agencies likewise operate to protect your safety. Consumer Protection agencies that monitor and protect from everything from faulty toys, banking excesses, securities fraud and a host of other functions are effectively sidelined leaving wrongdoers free to exploit others. Many “essential” agency functions have their safety functions much impaired. NASA may still operate existing programs, but what about those who analyze the data that comes in to help keep the projects from hitting snags. The military is essential, but what about those who provide health benefits to our veterans and ongoing care? Who is going to process the Medicare liens and lien reductions when your injury case settles? Without that occurring, case payments will be delayed to the injured persons and to their healthcare providers. It is the secondary effect, like issuing Medicare lien letters and negotiating those liens that really magnifies the losses to our economy because our government plays a vital role is many private transactions. Almost every industry has a similar example of how a governmental shutdown negatively affects commerce for that industry. Without that processing function, commerce will simply cease in many of these areas costing our economy a collective fortune.

The federal courts are significantly hampered. Even when deemed essential, the work stoppage in other areas hinders the remaining work. For instance, it is pretty hard to try jury trials without money to pay jurors. While the court may remain open for filings and some hearings, your rights to a jury trial are affected because the court’s docket will back up as trials are delayed. For persons who wait many months for their day in court, additional months are added for every week of delay. For persons who happen to be incarcerated waiting trial, the delay itself could jeopardize the constitutional right of a speedy trial. What that means in practice is that innocent people suffer unnecessary punishment and guilty people could have a potential of have cases dismissed because of the delay. Feeling safer?

I have read a number of posts from well meaning individuals expressing no real concern for the shutdown affecting their life. It does. It affects your safety and it affects your financial bottom line.