05 April 2011

"Non-essential" government

This morning, the news is filled with stories about a possible government shutdown due to the budget impasse between both houses of congress and the President. At the end of this story, I found this gem:
The Committee on House Administration also sent out a memo instructing employers in the House of Representatives to determine which "essential personnel" should keep working should funding lapse. The only House employees allowed to keep working would be those whose jobs are "directly related to constitutional responsibilities, related to the protection of human life, or related to the protection of property."
I searched for the entire memo but only found it on a Washington Post blog. Here is the context of the relevant text sent out by Daniel Lungren, the committee's charman:
Should Congress and the President fail to come to an agreement continuing appropriations for the Legislative Branch, non-essential House operations must be shut down effective April 9, 2011. Because a disruption in the legislative activities of the House would prevent the House from exercising its powers under Article I of the Constitution of the United States, essential employees should continue to perform their normal duties.

Therefore, under the authority vested in the Committee on House Administration by House Rule X, clause 1(k), the Committee directs that in the event of a lapse in appropriations for the Legislative Branch, each House employing authority shall designate as essential personnel only those employees whose primary job responsibilities are directly related to constitutional responsibilities, related to the protection of human life, or related to the protection of property. All other House personnel shall be placed in a furlough status by the appropriate employing authority until appropriations are made available.
So, if the an agreement on a budget fails to materialize, then, and only then, will the government will revert to its (supposedly) legitimate responsibilities/functions by virtue of the fact that it will not be able to pay those non-essential people who are, by definition, performing non-essential tasks. One could only hope that the remaining workers, those performing "constitutional responsibilities" will also be performing these duties free of charge, at which point, the phrase "public servant" may actually take on an air of legitimacy. Obviously, the phrase "constitutional responsibilities" is open to wide interpretation as I and many others have written about before, and I know that the remaining workers will still be paid. However, without a budget and far less personnel, the responsibilities of those workers will necessarily limited.

For all of the doom and gloom that people think is possible, I think a government shutdown could be a good thing. It will force people to truly examine "whether or not government works at all". As Professor Bruce Yandle theorizes, "I think we will realize how extensively the federal government is involved in all aspects of life, and we’ll all be surprised." That's obviously a double-edged sword considering the number of people dependent on the government either for employment, unemployment assistance, or welfare. A backlash from those groups could bring the government roaring back. In 1995, the government shutdown was ended by the passage of a balanced budget. I hope our current lawmakers are principled enough to hold out for at least that much, if not more.

1 comment:

  1. Non-essential. Why in the world are we funding it in the first place?


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