It has undoubtedly been an interesting few weeks on Capitol Hill. President Barack Obama signed a bill to reopen the federal government and lift the debt limit just after midnight on Thursday, October 17. The bipartisan votes in both houses of Congress allowed for the end of the 16-day government shutdown just hours before the federal government's borrowing authority was set to expire.
With the documents signed, furloughed federal employees returned to work last Thursday morning, reported Time.
"Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the President plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning," Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the news source. "Employees should be checking the news and [the Office of Personnel Management] website for further updates."
Some federal offices saw greater closings
While some offices saw a large percentage of their employees out of work during the shutdown, others were relatively untouched. Fierce Homeland Security reported that Homeland Security saw relatively small portions of its overall workforce furloughed during the three-week period.
The Science and Technology Directorate saw 95.74 percent of its workforce furloughed, and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office had 94.78 percent of its staff forced out by the shutdown, according to the news source. The relatively small 13.66 percent of DHS employees furloughed did make an impact, but hardly shutdown the department in comparison to other offices deemed less necessary.
Economists talk about shutdown as potential danger
The ramifications of the shutdown on homeland security are still being dissected by economists, researchers and federal groups. Fierce Homeland Security reports that some are theorizing that if an agreement had not been made about the federal government shutdown, and more specifically the debt ceiling, national security could have suffered.
"There is no chance that tomorrow al Qaeda will cause this country to default on its debt," Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution senior fellow in governance studies, wrote on the Lawfare blog. "There is, however, a considerable chance that Congress will launch such an attack – which, of course, we won't speak of in those terms. If a body other than the Congress of the United States were actively contemplating a step that would, by the accounts of virtually all economists, tank the U.S. economy, cause interest rates to shoot up, and trigger a financial crisis, we would talk about that body as threat to national security."
According to recent theories, if Congress had been unable to come to an agreement about the debt ceiling, national security would have suffered. In addition, the global ramifications of the financial debt bubble bursting would have been considerable, yet unmeasurable. Economists and leaders tried to determine how to prevent the system's collapse from removing the foundation from the marketplace if an agreement hadn't been made.
Federal workers return, flexible management practices put into place
Most of the workers who were furloughed during the federal government shutdown returned to work the morning of October 17. Fierce Homeland Security reported that there were some expected issues with people coming back to work. Each agency had its own specific problems with the shutdown and there was a lack of a government-wide solution to get everyone up and running quickly.
"It really depends dramatically agency to agency," said Brookings Fellow John Hudak, according to the news source. "OPM can issue broad guidance but it's up to the agency to give technical and legal guidance."
As a result of the confusion, the Office of Personnel Management gave departments flexibility in how each individual agency wished to restart business as usual, according to a statement released by the office.
"Agencies are strongly encouraged to use all available workplace flexibilities to ensure a smooth transition back to work for employees (e.g. telework, work schedule flexibilities, and excused absence for hardship situations)," the statement said, according to the news source.
There were many issues that needed to be taken care of with this government shutdown that were not present in the last one in 1996. For example, computers had to be reset, cell phones turned back on, emails reinstated and other various administrative tasks just to get workers back online. While some departments like the National Parks Service, reinstatement could mean something as simple as unlocking a gate, but for others, the process is more complex.
"People still have work to do, plus they have to deal with a backlog of work that didn't get taken care of when the government was shut down," Hudak told Fierce Homeland Security. "A lot of government workers are forced with a task they've never dealt with before."
New employee training and application processes interrupted
For many of the federal agencies impacted by the government shutdown one of the more crucial ramifications is the interruption of new employee training and applications. This will drastically impact how well government bodies will be able to take on current projects and try and play catch up with work that was delayed or shutdown during the past three weeks.
Jeff Neal, former Homeland Security Department chief human capital office, wrote in a an Oct. 15 blog post that DHS's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center exempted only 61 of its 1074 employees in the shutdown, which means training operations came to a halt. Students were required to depart the FLETC campus and fly home at the taxpayer's expense until the Government reopened last Thursday. In addition to cost, the lack of ongoing employee and agent training will have an impact on future readiness because fewer trained agents will be ready to replace those retiring from active duty.
"Given the demand for FLETC training and the reduction in capacity caused by losing 2-3 weeks on the calendar, it is likely crucial training classes will be deferred for weeks or months," Neal wrote.
The underlying problem is fueling shutdown is the inability to gain bi-partisan consensus on a Federal budget. The inefficiencies caused by constant gridlock is costing the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and putting our Nation's security in jeopardy. It has been years since an actual budget (not a continuing resolution) was passed. Without one, many Federal agencies have been paralyzed and unable to effectively plan their operations or make critical infrastructure decisions to reduce operating costs.
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