Now that a semblance of normality has returned to Washington it’s time to ask an important question:
- What are the shutdown's costs to the federal workforce?
We know the tangible costs in terms of dollars. But what about the hidden costs which are more difficult to measure?
In addition to lost economic productivity and America’s diminished leadership role on the world stage (see Part I of this series), the shutdown has resulted in at least 3 significant intangible costs that will hurt Uncle Sam going forward:
1) Further Erosion of Trust. Just when you thought it could not get any worse, government’s public approval ratings continue to plummet.
Unfortunately, public trust in government had eroded to dismal levels prior to the shutdown, according to a plethora of polls. Yet shuttering government has only made a bad situation worse.
According to a recent poll (10/16) by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press:
- “The share of the public saying they are angry at the federal government, which equaled an all-time high in late September (26%), has ticked up to 30%.”
- “Another 55% say they are frustrated with the government.”
- “Just 12% say they are basically content with the federal government.”
In other words, according to the Pew poll, a whopping 88% of the American people are apparently discontent with the federal government. That’s clearly an unacceptable figure.
Lack of public trust severely undermines the effectiveness of government to function on an institutional level -- an outcome which benefits no one.
2) Damage to Recruitment & Retention. It’s obvious that Uncle Sam must attract a new generation of young talent to federal service. This is a time-sensitive priority due to the so-called “retirement tsunami” and related “brain drain” of institutional expertise government-wide.
But the shutdown has likely caused more federal employees, applicants and potential hires to reassess public service. This was true to some extent already, particularly as agencies continue to operate on shoe-string budgets due to the ongoing sequester.
Therefore, it’s critical for Congress and the American people to recognize that federal agencies cannot function to maximum effectiveness when they are resource starved to the bone.
This may deter high-profile applicants with the special technical expertise that is badly needed at some agencies – especially to foster new IT innovations which will lead to improved federal services.
Uncle Sam cannot afford to continue losing out to the private sector on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest people to serve America, especially during this challenging time of "doing more with less."
3) Sinking Morale. The morale of the federal workforce was unacceptably low even before the shutdown. This was evidenced by myriad public and private sector studies, including OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).
As in any large organization, low employee morale may lead to decreased productivity and increased absenteeism – not to mention employee disengagement and indifference to critically important mission-related work, among other harmful ramifications.
In essence, these three hidden costs of the shutdown tend to feed off one another in a vicious cycle, negatively impacting the federal workforce in immeasurable ways.
Thus the cumulative post-shutdown impact will likely be felt by the federal family on a variety of fronts for some time to come.
And no price can be put on that.
- Do you agree about the 3 hidden costs of the shutdown? If not, why?
- If so, what are your suggestions to address and remedy these hidden costs?
- Are there any hidden costs you would add?
In Case You Missed It
- Shutdown Ramifications, Part I: America & the World
- Is Shutting Down the Federal Government Ever Justified?
* All views and opinions are those of the author only.