Why Government Shutdowns Suck

by R H | February 3rd, 2018

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Why Government Shutdowns Suck

I’ve now lived through mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment shut­downs. Each has had a dif­fer­ent effect on me, but this last one, and the ongo­ing Con­tin­u­ing Res­o­lu­tion, has made the largest impact, because I cur­rently man­age almost 90 Sailors, a large inven­tory of equip­ment, and a large travel bud­get with Sailors deployed all over the world. I think there is a big mis­con­cep­tion about a gov­ern­ment shut­down. Peo­ple imag­ine that every­thing just comes to a stand­still, every­one just up and leaves their jobs and sits at home on their hands. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

For the mil­i­tary, we con­tinue to oper­ate. We con­tinue “oper­a­tionally related” travel and func­tions, although that term is often left to local com­man­ders to fig­ure out. We don’t get paid, but that really comes in to play only if the shut­down hap­pens over the 1st or 15th of a month. Oth­er­wise, every­one is show­ing up to work and doing exactly what they did the day before.

So why exactly is a short shut­down a prob­lem? Glad you asked!

Travel gets cur­tailed. Non-​mission essen­tial travel is halted, and every­one comes home. That sounds odd, like, why in the heck would we have “non-​mission essen­tial” any­thing, espe­cially travel? I think peo­ple envi­sion these big con­fer­ences where Admi­rals and Cap­tains are just liv­ing it up in Hawaii at some nice resort. Maybe that hap­pens (I seri­ously doubt it), but for the aver­age Sailor, non-​mission essen­tial travel includes schools, PCS orders, pro­mo­tion boards, rat­ing reviews, and lots of other things. This travel is mak­ing our future bet­ter, but because it doesn’t involve killing bad guys directly, it gets tabled. In this last shut­down, I had to cut my travel short and drive home. The travel I missed will even­tu­ally get resched­uled, but at a less opti­mal date, and will pos­si­bly hurt other parts of my job.

It dis­tracts com­man­ders from their real job. My job is to exe­cute my mis­sion. I know my bud­get and I try to opti­mize it for the year, mak­ing the best use of the tax payer’s money, tak­ing advan­tage of oppor­tu­ni­ties while also bud­get­ing for con­tin­gen­cies. Although I keep tabs on money, I pre­fer it not be my biggest con­cern dur­ing the day. In a Con­tin­u­ing Res­o­lu­tion, and espe­cially in a shut­down, this changes. I have to explic­itly bud­get for every sin­gle trip. If I get any last minute requests, I spend an inor­di­nate amount of time con­tact­ing our comp­trol­ler and get­ting money moved. I feel like a slave to the phone and email, and no mat­ter how pro­fes­sional or good our finan­cial peo­ple are, there are always problems.

It gives finan­cial peo­ple too much power. I’m lucky and have good bud­get peo­ple. In the past, that hasn’t been true. I’ve had comp­trol­lers that are bor­der­line dys­func­tional. In a Con­tin­u­ing Res­o­lu­tion, these peo­ple, and not com­man­ders, have all the power. If they decide that there isn’t bud­get money for travel or sup­plies, you fight an uphill bat­tle. Sure, you can report them to the IG. Heck, I’ve done that and writ­ten to my Con­gress­woman in the past. But guess what? Even when it works, it is painfully slow. And remem­ber: mil­i­tary per­son­nel are in a place for 24 years, but civil­ians last (seem­ingly) forever.

It pits ser­vice mem­bers against Con­gress. Every time a bud­get isn’t passed, ser­vice mem­bers gripe about Con­gress. “I wish Con­gress would do its damn job” is a con­stant refrain I hear. And while I keep a tamp down on it, and tell peo­ple to let it moti­vate them to vote, it still sucks. It really makes ser­vice mem­bers wary of Con­gress, and the lack of respect that exists between the two groups con­tin­ues to decline. It also doesn’t help that we have less vet­er­ans in Con­gress.

So yeah, shut­downs suck. But they don’t suck because we sud­denly can’t pay for ammu­ni­tion. Instead, they suck because they dis­tract us from what our real job is: pro­tect­ing this great nation.


This post rep­re­sents the views of the author and not those of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, or any other gov­ern­ment agency.

Please be sure to donate to Da Tech Guy!

I’ve now lived through multiple government shutdowns. Each has had a different effect on me, but this last one, and the ongoing Continuing Resolution, has made the largest impact, because I currently manage almost 90 Sailors, a large inventory of equipment, and a large travel budget with Sailors deployed all over the world. I think there is a big misconception about a government shutdown. People imagine that everything just comes to a standstill, everyone just up and leaves their jobs and sits at home on their hands. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the military, we continue to operate. We continue “operationally related” travel and functions, although that term is often left to local commanders to figure out. We don’t get paid, but that really comes in to play only if the shutdown happens over the 1st or 15th of a month. Otherwise, everyone is showing up to work and doing exactly what they did the day before.

So why exactly is a short shutdown a problem? Glad you asked!

Travel gets curtailed. Non-mission essential travel is halted, and everyone comes home. That sounds odd, like, why in the heck would we have “non-mission essential” anything, especially travel? I think people envision these big conferences where Admirals and Captains are just living it up in Hawaii at some nice resort. Maybe that happens (I seriously doubt it), but for the average Sailor, non-mission essential travel includes schools, PCS orders, promotion boards, rating reviews, and lots of other things. This travel is making our future better, but because it doesn’t involve killing bad guys directly, it gets tabled. In this last shutdown, I had to cut my travel short and drive home. The travel I missed will eventually get rescheduled, but at a less optimal date, and will possibly hurt other parts of my job.

It distracts commanders from their real job. My job is to execute my mission. I know my budget and I try to optimize it for the year, making the best use of the tax payer’s money, taking advantage of opportunities while also budgeting for contingencies. Although I keep tabs on money, I prefer it not be my biggest concern during the day. In a Continuing Resolution, and especially in a shutdown, this changes. I have to explicitly budget for every single trip. If I get any last minute requests, I spend an inordinate amount of time contacting our comptroller and getting money moved. I feel like a slave to the phone and email, and no matter how professional or good our financial people are, there are always problems.

It gives financial people too much power. I’m lucky and have good budget people. In the past, that hasn’t been true. I’ve had comptrollers that are borderline dysfunctional. In a Continuing Resolution, these people, and not commanders, have all the power. If they decide that there isn’t budget money for travel or supplies, you fight an uphill battle. Sure, you can report them to the IG. Heck, I’ve done that and written to my Congresswoman in the past. But guess what? Even when it works, it is painfully slow. And remember: military personnel are in a place for 2-4 years, but civilians last (seemingly) forever.

It pits service members against Congress. Every time a budget isn’t passed, service members gripe about Congress. “I wish Congress would do its damn job” is a constant refrain I hear. And while I keep a tamp down on it, and tell people to let it motivate them to vote, it still sucks. It really makes service members wary of Congress, and the lack of respect that exists between the two groups continues to decline. It also doesn’t help that we have less veterans in Congress.

So yeah, shutdowns suck. But they don’t suck because we suddenly can’t pay for ammunition. Instead, they suck because they distract us from what our real job is: protecting this great nation.


This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Please be sure to donate to Da Tech Guy!

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