The government shutdown is affecting every single one of us, in countless ways. We know that government employees are being furloughed and we have a vague idea of what that means. We have no idea of the long-range damage being caused as this political morass continues. How quickly will our government agencies recover and wade through the backlog of unattended business? What happened, or more correctly what didn’t happen, when everyone went home? We may feel the effects of this for months or even years. AND, if they come up with a short-term solution, how do we know this will not happen again?
Here are some examples of what is not happening due to the government shutdown?
The FDA workload is overwhelming on a full-staffed day. With more than half of the inspectors on furlough, inspections of food, both domestic and foreign have been severely reduced. Food that passes through the system during this time could end up in stores and our kitchens without the kind of scrutiny required to keep our food supply safe.
Last week there was a salmonella outbreak, traced to tainted chicken, but the CDC has not been able to trace the source due to the shutdown of PulseNet, a national network of public health laboratories, that looks for trends and matches reports to spot food-borne illness outbreaks. It’s one of the agency’s most important tools in detecting such problems.
Workplace hazards, on the job safety violations, and oversight of facilities, including chemical plants, are going unreported due to the scarcity of employees at OSHA, only 230 of the 2,235 employees are on the job. The furloughs mean only enough staff to respond to complaints with “a high risk of death or serious physical harm,” according to OSHA’s shutdown plan.
Nursing home inspections aren’t being conducted. Federal investigators from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will be able to look into the major complaints but all routine investigations to monitor conditions, assess safety, and medication practices in nursing homes have been stopped.
Do you live near a nuclear facility? The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been using carryover funding to remain open but that expired on October 10, according to agency spokesman Eliot Brenner. The NRC, responsible for the safety of U.S. nuclear plants, will furlough about 3,600 of its 3,900 employees. He stated that the agency would keep enough staff to respond to emergencies. Is 300 staff really enough to prevent a nuclear accident?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, doesn’t have the staff to investigate serious incidents. There is a law requiring automakers to report safety recalls to NHTSA within 5 days of learning about possible defects or safety issues. Vital safety issues will go unreported, as there is no one on duty to report to.
The FAA isn’t performing safety oversight. It does not have the manpower to conduct many of its inspections or monitor accidents. “Kori Blalock Keller, a spokeswoman for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union, said the smaller workforce raises the possibility of disruptions in service and safety risks.”
The budget may get passed soon and employees will be sent back to work. But the time lost will never be regained. Unsafe medications may have slipped through unseen. A significant auto crash that might be linked to a manufacturing defect will not get the NHTSA attention required to launch an inquiry. Uninspected foods, both domestic and foreign, are making their way through the system and into our grocery carts.
Government medical researchers and doctors are not attending conferences, pursuing new grants or working on research that could save lives. The CDC is warning of serious threats to our health and safety. Anti- pollution efforts have ceased.
The United States is operating on a skeleton crew. Most of our safeguards are gone. The political posturing is creating dangerous circumstances that may lead to the loss of lives, not to mention livelihoods.
Can you go to the store and feel confident about the food you buy? Is Granny in a safe nursing home? We talk about Big Brother and complain about the reach of government in our personal lives but I challenge you to read through this article and tell me which of these government watchdog agencies you think you can safely live without. I guess it depends upon whose ox is being gored.