We're currently in the midst of the longest government shutdown in the history of our fair nation. And if there's a lesson to learn here, maybe it should be something about how everything, everywhere shouldn't be able to fall apart at a speed rarely seen outside of apocalypse movies. And if you think we're being a tad hyperbolic, well ...
As "essential" workers, TSA staff are required to work even if they're not getting paid. In response, screeners are calling in sick -- not out of spite, mind, but because they need to work a second job or they can't afford the gas money. The resultant staff shortage is causing chaos at airports across the country, with some having been forced to close entire concourses because there's no one to man them.
Across the country, various federal groups (such as the U.S. Forest Service) have been forced to suspend their preparations for the upcoming wildfire season, which includes training and hiring new personnel, ordering new equipment, applying for funding grants, and -- crucially -- clearing forest floors of debris that could trigger/fuel a raging inferno.
Speaking of things that screwed us last year, hurricane preparedness programs have been scuppered too. Without any staff to maintain them, the models that we use to predict hurricanes aren't being maintained, while researchers from organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service have been unable to attend conferences that, in previous years, have helped to make these predictive models more effective.
What with tourists and commuters staying home, taxi drivers in Washington, D.C. have reported a catastrophic drop in the number of fares that they're collecting -- so much so that it's not uncommon for them to spend two hours trying to find a passenger. It's not much better for Uber and Lyft drivers, most of whom have gone from earning upwards of $300 per day to just $100.
The Department of Agriculture regularly provides farmers with information about what agricultural products are in demand around the world, all in the name of ensuring that farmers are planting what needs to be grown. The DOA being DOA, however, means that this report hasn't been produced, leaving farmers without any guidance on how to proceed in this coming planting season.
The National Transportation Safety Board is a pretty important organization, as they're responsible for investigating transportation accidents and figuring out whether they were random acts of chance or proof of a larger problem that could go on to kill many, many more people. Anyway, guess what they're not doing right now? The shutdown has decimated the NTSB so badly that they've not only had to suspend several high-profile investigations, but have also had to scrub the publication of a report listing their "most wanted" list of transportation safety improvements.
You know what's good? Walking. Inside our houses. Let's all just stick to that, yeah?
Good news! The IRS is still going to be issuing your tax refund. Bad news! Filing your latest tax return promises to be a nightmare on par with, well, filing a tax return. Only 57 percent of the agency's staff is going to be returning (unpaid) to work, meaning that there are fewer people to answer filing queries ... like the ones they'd receive if the tax code recently got massively overhauled. Uh-oh.
If you're a high school or college student about to apply for student aid (FAFSA), prepare for a major stress headache. The shutdown means that the IRS also isn't currently issuing tax transcripts -- an important piece of paperwork used by colleges to judge whether an applicant truly needs financial assistance or is just angling for a top-up on their "drugs n' liquor" fund.
UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has instructed schools that, in lieu of a tax transcript, they can accept signed tax returns instead. Sorry, stoners.
Some national parks are still open, albeit operating on a skeleton staff. If you thought this meant that visitors would treat them with respect or consideration, though, have we got a surprise for you. It's been reported that people are ignoring signs asking them to take their trash home, and instead are choosing to scatter it across campgrounds or atop already-overflowing trash cans.
Some national parks have also been forced to close their facilities entirely on account of people peeing and pooping, like, everywhere. And hey, speaking of turds ruining nature ...
The lack of supervision at Joshua Tree National Park has resulted in some visitors graffitiing rocks, building illegal campsites, and chopping down the park's namesake trees in order to circumvent security barriers. If that isn't bad enough, off-roaders have carved new roadways through areas of "pristine desert" -- ecological destruction that experts say it will take nature years, if not decades, to fix.
In news that probably brought a smile to a certain someone's face, the FBI can't do its job anymore. Over 5,000 agents and analysts have been KO'd, meaning that in lieu of running investigations, testing evidence, and cultivating informants, FBI employees are now running food banks for their cash-strapped coworkers.
As government agencies close, so too do their websites. Which is bad news for us, because one of those websites is the FTC's donotcall.gov, i.e. the thing that allows you to eat your dinner in peace. Until the shutdown ends, ordinary folks can't sign up to the registry, and telemarketers can't consult the registry to make sure they're not breaking the law.
Although 800,000 government employees are going to be receiving back pay for the time they spent not working -- or straight-up working right now without pay -- that same courtesy isn't being extended to the equally high number of contractors whom the government employs in janitorial, security, research, and computer nerd roles. We'd suggest that they check out GoFundMe, but it's a pretty crowded market right now.
As a result of the Tobacco Tax And Trade Bureau calling last orders, breweries and vineyards can't launch any new brands, because there's no one around to review and approve their bottle labels -- a necessity for anyone who wants to sell alcoholic wares. We'd make a joke here about hipsters bootlegging artisanal moonshine across state lines, but we're not sure whether hipsters are still a thing.
The federal government -- more specifically, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Health and Human Services -- provides funding to tribal nations for necessities like social services, education, and healthcare. The shutdown means that these funds are no longer being provided, leading to widespread cuts to vital community services -- a palpable economic anxiety compounded by the furloughing of thousands of tribal members who worked for the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service.
Scientists working in a vast number of government agencies are now prohibited -- at least until the shutdown ends -- from checking experiment results, consulting with colleagues, performing tests, attending conferences, or doing anything that could otherwise be construed as "science." Just so we're clear, this is a very, very bad thing -- not just because it means experiments that require regular testing or maintenance are absolutely screwed (just like they were after the 2013 shutdown), but also because it means scientists (and by extension, us) are missing out on witnessing once-in-a-lifetime phenomena like space pulsars or animal migrations.
As a consequence of the shutdown, federal agencies are now more susceptible to being on the receiving end of a cyberattack. That's because, according to experts, most cybersecurity work at these agencies -- which includes tasks like installing patches, monitoring for intrusions -- is generally undertaken by government contractors and computer technicians, i.e. the people least likely to be working on any skeleton crew ... and also as evidenced by the fact that upwards of 80 government websites are now malfunctioning owing to them having outdated security certificates.
According to a report issued by Syracuse University, over 42,000 immigration hearings have been cancelled as a result of the shutdown -- an obvious consequence of judges and other court employees having been furloughed. This figure doesn't show any signs of slowing down, either, as the report specifies that for every week that the shutdown lasts beyond January 11, we'll see another 20,000 hearings cancelled. Again, that's not 20,000 in total. That's 20,000 per week.
It'd almost be funny if it wasn't so tragic for the individuals and families involved. There are currently 800,000 immigration cases, and the cancellation of these hearings means the affected individuals go straight to the back of the line and an average wait of two years. (Some immigration judges are booked up until 2022.)
The FAA just announced that they were overhauling their shutdown plan and defurloughing an additional 2,900 safety inspectors in order to ensure the "operational safety of the entire national airspace." Before you remark about how that seems pretty safety-conscious of them, however, we'd like to know how many safety inspectors they've had working in the "make sure the planes don't crash" team for the last several weeks.
That's it, we didn't drop a couple of zeros or anything. The FAA's original plan, for whatever reason, felt that the core functions of the safety team could be managed by a turnout that your local Cheesecake Factory manager would consider a "disappointing" night.
Prisoners at at Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City have gone on a hunger strike as a result of the shutdown preventing them from receiving visitors, enjoying recreational time, or even getting medical treatment.
President Trump recently held a dinner at the White House to honor the Clemson Tigers. You already know how it turned out.
The dinner was catered by McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, and Domino's. But you might be wondering "Why?" As a result of the shutdown, the majority of the White House's residential staff are currently furloughed ... a number which clearly includes his cooks and (with any luck) the guy whose job it is to tell Trump that, germophobia or not, he has to take the wrappers off the Fillet-o-Fish before he shoves them whole into his gaping maw.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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