Budget quirks result in seemingly random closures.
WASHINGTON – Grocery stores on Army bases in the United States are closed. The golf course at Andrews Air Force base is open.
All 128 employees of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. are working, while 3,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors are off the job.
The seeming randomness of the U.S. government’s first shutdown in 17 years can be explained in part by anomalies in the spending Congress does and doesn’t control. Activities funded by fees from drug, financial-services and other companies are insulated from year-to-year budget dysfunction. The ones that get a budget from Congress get hit.
This isn’t government according to U.S. civics textbooks. Government is supposed to collect taxes, the president is supposed to propose each year how to spend the money, and Congress has the final say with the constitutional power of the purse.
Instead, Congress has had to resort to a so-called continuing resolution — a catchall bill to keep the government operating while negotiations continue — in each of the past 16 years.
Since the standoff between President Bill Clinton and Congress that last shut down most of the government, funding of more functions has shifted to means outside the appropriations process, said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Passport applications are paid for by fees. The FDA is funded through assessments on companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has said it can operate for at least four weeks, has been funded by user fees since 1993. The Federal Highway Administration is funded by taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, not income taxes, so its 2,914 employees are on the job.
The numbers of furloughed employees also vary dramatically from agency to agency. The Agriculture Department is furloughing 84 percent of its staff, while the Veterans Affairs Department is keeping 96 percent of its workers on the job, foe example.
In the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 38 percent of the 4,113 employees are still on the job, including those that provide water, fight fires or are building roads or bridges. Suspended activities include payments of financial assistance to needy individuals, and to vendors providing foster care.