When most people ponder the government shutdown, they’re generally thinking about “big ticket” items: effects on the broader economy, millions of laid-off workers, delays in services, Washington gridlock, etc . . .
Thanks to some excellent investigative reporting at the Washington Post, however, we’re now learning that sometimes it’s actually the smaller and lesser known cuts that could be much costlier and far harder to untangle.
Take the FBI, for example. Even before the shutdown, here is a partial list of items the agency had begun to do without:
- Installation of new surveillance systems and other tracking technologies;
- Gas for FBI vehicles – particularly in states where long-distance driving is often a required element for many investigations;
- At least 10 cases deemed “important” by the Director Comey that have been entirely dropped due to a lack of adequate resources;
- A total hiring freeze on new Special Agents;
- An almost complete closure of the Quantico training facility;
- Insufficient amounts of cash to convince terrorists they’re meeting with arms dealers or drug cartels with prospective purchasers;
- And, maybe most significantly, countless undercover informants who have simply been told they won’t be receiving their checks – Something Director Comey has described as a crucial tactic in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.
So with all that in mind, one should consider the FBI’s post-sequester cutbacks a mere prequel to what is likely to happen if the government shutdown becomes a sustained reality. Frighteningly, we’re not merely asking one of our nation’s most important lines of defense to do more with less – We’re creating serious self-inflicted wounds that cannot necessarily be healed even if spending does return to normal levels.
When cases are dropped, unpaid informants walk away (or decide to exact revenge…) and there aren’t ANY junior agents gaining critical field experience, profound security gaps begin to grow exponentially. That’s the sort of damage that requires years to undo.
The FBI, of course, is only one agency. So ask yourself this: What other “little cuts” may be fundamentally weakening the nation? Let’s all remember that the federal government isn’t some abstract monolith. It’s the largest employer in the nation. It’s the entity that inspects the food you eat, approves the safety of medications, makes sure your airplane’s engines are working, keeps bridges from falling into rivers and, quite obviously, bravely defends our nation at home and abroad.
How well we’ll continue to do all those things – and many more – remains very much an open question.