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Recent Government Shutdowns Cost $4 Billion

Michael Rainey

The last three government shutdowns cost the government about $4 billion and more than 56,000 years in lost productivity, according to a new bipartisan report.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released its report Tuesday after spending months analyzing the time, money and effort that was wasted in the three shutdowns of the federal government since 2013. The report covers the most recent and longest shutdown, which began in late 2018 and lasted 35 days, as well as the brief shutdown at the beginning of 2018 and the 16-day shutdown that occurred in 2013.

Most of the money went toward back pay, with $3.7 billion paid to workers who were forced to stay home while their agencies and departments went without funding. Another $338 million was for related costs, including lost revenues, late fees and additional administrative work. And the total time lost by furloughed employees came to 56,938 years of work.


The report’s authors said the total cost was likely higher, since they were unable to gather all the information they were seeking. For example, the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Justice, Commerce and the EPA did not provide “basic information about employee furloughs, including back pay, for certain shutdowns.” And the total cost to taxpayers was likely higher still, the report noted, since the shutdowns reduced economic growth, with the Congressional Budget Office estimating that the most recent shutdown lowered GDP growth by $11 billion in the final quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.

Here’s a brief sample of some of the waste related to the shutdowns documented in the report:

  • The Department of Justice canceled roughly 60,000 immigration hearings for non-detained aliens during the most recent shutdown.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board suspended about 2,000 accident investigations during the early 2018 shutdown.
  • The Department of Homeland Security delayed facility maintenance activities, endangering the lives of law enforcement officers during the 2018-19 shutdown.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission stopped screening imported products during the 2018-19 shutdown, potentially allowing children’s goods with excessive lead levels into the country.

"Federal government shutdowns don't save money,” committee chair Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said Tuesday. “They actually cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Read the full report here.

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