The Biggest Waste of All

Since January of 2012, the House and Senate have held more than 100 hearings dedicated to investigating government waste and abuse, which is ironic since Congress this month imposed a government shutdown that has inflicted colossal waste and abuse on the entire nation.

For weeks leading to the shutdown, agency leaders were pulled away from their missions to run through the morale-busting exercise of determining which public servants would be deemed "essential" and who would be furloughed. Federal managers spent thousands of hours trying to figure out how to triage critical functions from those that are simply important and how to close down much of government with the least disruption and harm to the public, all the while being sidetracked from actually carrying out their service to the American people.

Large numbers of employees have continued working as funding has lapsed, but without paychecks and under circumstances that make it hard to be fully productive. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of public servants have been banned from doing their jobs and have been deprived of their income.

Besides gross mishandling of the workforce, Congress is needlessly inflicting harm on citizens caught in the shutdown drama, more willing to argue about where the blame lies than to protect those affected by their intransigence.

The shutdown has affected a wide array of services, from denying the entry of seriously ill patients to National Institutes of Health clinical trials and putting constraints on environmental protection, on food safety, public health, aid for the homeless, nuclear and chemical plant safety, veteran's disability claims processing and much more.

This is what real, consequential waste looks like.

This self-imposed fiasco follows the arbitrary, across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration that went into effect last year. These congressionally-mandated reductions saved money, but at a cost that have had negative consequences for the public.

The FBI, for example, stopped opening new investigations and hiring new agents, and doesn't even have enough money to put gas in investigators' cars. Marine Corps Chief of Staff General James Amos warned Congress recently that sequestration could put our national security and readiness at risk, and "will have a significant impact on the global security climate, the perceptions of our enemies, and the confidence of our allies."

Finally, Congress has regularly neglected its responsibility to approve annual budgets, relying year-after-year on short-term funding resolutions, making it impossible for leaders to plan and prioritize appropriately. This sorry state has now gotten worse, with the gridlocked Congress failing to appropriate any money at all to run the government, leading to the shutdown.

The Congress is quick -- even eager -- to point the finger at federal employees for waste and abuse, but with the manufactured shutdown crisis and earlier ill-conceived actions, Congress is guilty of gross mismanagement, plain and simple. This is the biggest waste of all.

Max Stier is president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service

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