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    A Quick Taste of the Bleakness a Federal Shutdown Will Bring

    Written by

    Michael Byrne


    The NIH Clinical Research Center, via Wikimedia Commons

    As the US government shutdown showdown goes fully over the edge—with neither side of the non-negotiation between the White House and House of Representatives Tea Party bloc blinking—it is worth pointing out just a few things that will be lost on Tuesday, when the actual shutdown goes into effect. (Note that offering to only kind of neuter an already-passed and repeatedly reaffirmed law is not blinking.)

    Much like the ongoing budget sequester witling away at the American economy (to say nothing of federally-supported science and health research), the bet is the average voter won’t really notice on a day-to-day level. And, let’s face it; people are much less likely to vote based on stuff they can’t immediately see and feel, like last-hope cancer patients getting turned away at the National Institutes of Health or senior citizens not being able to get a flu shot.

    I went ahead and picked a few of the bleaker examples out of the Department of Health and Human Services contingency staffing plan:

    NIH would not admit new patients (unless deemed medically necessary by the NIH Director), or initiate new protocols, and would discontinue some veterinary services. NIH will not take any actions on grant applications or awards.

    CDC would be unable to support the annual seasonal influenza program, outbreak detection and linking across state boundaries using genetic and molecular analysis, continuous updating of disease treatment and prevention recommendations (e.g., HIV, TB, STDs, hepatitis), and technical assistance, analysis, and support to state and local partners for infectious disease surveillance.

    FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities. FDA will also have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (e.g., food contact substances, infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.

    ASPR would be unable to fund activities related to medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and emerging threats.

    In the Department of Health and Human Services, which covers all of the agencies mentioned above, a total of 40,512 staff members will be furloughed in the event of a shutdown. HHS is just one federal department of many and actually nowhere near the hardest hit by a potential shutdown, with just under half of its employees remaining on the clock.

    The hardest hit is NASA, at 97 percent, which loses just about everybody not currently in space or supporting things or people in space. The EPA loses 94 percent of its staff, while the “most safe” departments are Veterans Affairs (losing just 4 percent) and Homeland Security (losing 14 percent). All told, about 800,000 employees stand to be locked out this week.