The danger in shutting down national security
The nation awoke Tuesday to find much of the federal government closed for business. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had refused to fund essential government functions until the rest of Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to reverse a healthcare law passed three years ago and deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. By doing so, they put reversing healthcare reform ahead of protecting the nation.
Hundreds of thousands of national security professionals are now on furlough. The latest Office of Management and Budget guidance notes no function has been discontinued that would “imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.” The Defense Department made clear that “military personnel would continue in normal duty status.”
But even furloughing “non-essential personnel” undermines U.S. security. It hits three critical areas: the Defense Department’s civilian employees, the intelligence community and the agencies that respond to health emergencies.
As of October 1 at 12:01 a.m., hundreds of thousands of national security personnel that are not on duty, including as many as 400,000 Defense Department civilian personnel were told not to come to work. According to the Pentagon’s own guidance, this includes all intelligence activities not in direct support of excepted activities — like the conflict in Afghanistan.
Across the intelligence community more broadly, 70 percent of all employees are now forced to stay home in the government shutdown. The Central Intelligence Agency has 12,500 fewer personnel. We might now miss critical intelligence related to the chemical weapons in Syria or Iran’s efforts to further develop a nuclear weapons program.
The Treasury Department office that identifies terrorist financing networks and sanctions-evaders also sent home its analysts.
Some employees that respond to crisis are also not at work. This includes employees of agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has shut down its disease monitoring and hotlines leading to “a significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations.”
The Food and Drug Administration has stopped its flu vaccination program right at the beginning of flu season — though the virus kills on average over 20,000 people each year. The FDA will also halt all food safety inspections, reducing their ability to prevent salmonella outbreaks. Because of closures like these, the Congressional Research Service wrote, “the nation’s ability to respond to an incident could be delayed. Such a situation could result in increased risk to the nation.”
Some Tea Party Republicans say that a government shutdown is fine because only “non-essential” personnel are affected. But non-essential includes hundreds of thousands of people who work to keep this nation safe and stop crises long before they happen.
A terrorist plot or a disease outbreak will certainly result in a need for medical care — which the Tea Party wants to make more difficult to access. Ironically then, shutting down the government because of the healthcare law is a direct threat to the health of Americans.
This is reckless, shortsighted behavior unbefitting of a great legislature and a great country. If an unforeseen tragedy occurs because of the shutdown we — Republicans, Democrats and independents — all lose.
PHOTO: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel listens on speaker phone during a conversation with Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other senior Defense officials about the government shutdown, at his hotel in Seoul, October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool