Guest Host: Marc Fisher

As hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees and government contractors await a return to work, it’s not just major government functions that have come to a grinding halt.

Dozens of lesser known government offices have also been affected — from the people responsible for naming our rivers to those that cut you a check for any unclaimed federal funds.

John Palguta, a career veteran of the federal government, shares his thoughts on the long-term consequences of a government shutdown. And he has the scoop on the shuttered government offices that are not making the headlines.

Produced By Monna Kashfi


  • John Palguta Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University. Formerly Vice-President for Policy, Partnership for Public Service; @PalgutaJohn


  • 12:00:12

    MARC FISHERYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Mark Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo. Later this hour, are area high schools giving out too many good grades and how is an epidemic of As affecting your child's education. We'll look at concerns that grade inflation is giving area students a false sense of security.

  • 12:00:32

    MARC FISHERBut first, welcome to the government shutdown day 17. By now, you've already heard about trash piling up at national parks and tourists being disappointed by shuttered museums at the Smithsonian and elsewhere around town. And let's not forget the gaping void left in our lives by the Panda Cam gone dark.

  • 12:00:50

    MARC FISHERBut as hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees and government contractors wait to pick-up where they left off, when funding for about a quarter of the federal government came to an end on December 22, it's not just major government functions that have come to a grinding halt. All sorts of lesser known government offices are also affected. As we talk about this with John Pulguta, who's a former career executive in the federal government and now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. Welcome, to the program.

  • 12:01:21

    JOHN PALGUTAThank you, Mark. Pleased to be here.

  • 12:01:23

    FISHERSo what is -- and we all know about the kinds of things we see on TV and read about in the paper. The national park situation, the sort of big dramatic impacts of the shutdown, but there are all sorts of lesser impacts that we don't necessarily see. Can you give us a taste of what the real impact is here?

  • 12:01:43

    PALGUTAWell, sure, Mark. And the thing about the shutdown is that, you know, it's a lose-lose situation. Of course, we read about the federal employees and as a former federal employee, I know it can be devastating. You're on your, you know, lack of salary and the uncertainty. But even for federal employees beyond that, I mean, many of them -- and we'll talk later, are used to -- I worked during the last 21 day shutdown. They come to work, because they want to do something meaningful and the fact that they're actually prohibited from doing the work is a secondary blow.

  • 12:02:19

    PALGUTASo you have your finances you can't get done, which you want to get done. But we can't forget that, you know, contractors to government are also being affected. And many of them and that includes, you know, executives and consulting firms. But it also includes, you know, janitors and food service workers. And they're not guaranteed being repaid. You have small businesses near or around government throughout the country that depend upon either tourists coming and, you know, being part of their cliental or federal employees themselves.

  • 12:02:51

    PALGUTAAll the food trucks in D.C. are -- I think many of them are really hurting. You've got, you know, the fact that, you know, the tax payers are not being well served. Their tax payer dollars are going to fund operations that aren't being done and if there's a back pay, they're going to paying for work not being done.

  • 12:03:15

    FISHERJohn Pulguta, when employees finally are allowed back in, does everything just resume as it was or what actually happens?

  • 12:03:26

    PALGUTAGreat question and, of course, no. It's not an off-on switch and everything is back normal. You have huge backlogs. You know, whatever your job is, whatever the agency is that's affected, they all have a lot of things to do that are not getting done. And that's -- they're going to have to -- in some cases it's going to take, you know, weeks probably months to clear out the backlog and then to, you know, get to doing the regular day to day business. It's going to -- this is going to have lingering effects, lingering negative effects for quite a long time.

  • 12:04:03

    FISHERLet's hear from Noelle in Fairfax. Noel, you're on the air.

  • 12:04:07

    NOELLEHi there. I just wanted to comment. We've had an interesting happening today at our high school where we have students, who are dual enrolled in classes with Mason and they're not able to access NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website to get the data that they need to complete their mid-terms.

  • 12:04:28


  • 12:04:29

    NOELLESo that's really causing them some stress.

  • 12:04:32

    FISHEROkay. So that's kind of an unintended consequences, of course. And there must be similar ones across the country. So clearly as you mentioned this is not a case where anyone is really the victor in these shutdowns. The impacts are often invisible.

  • 12:04:48

    PALGUTAThat's true. And, you know, a large part of what government does is to stop bad things from happening and they do a very good job of that. And kind of people forget. But then there's just a ton of information that people rely upon. One politician once remarked, "Well, we don't need the National Oceanic -- you know, national weather service, which is part of NOAA, because we can just, you know, call into your local news program or something." But without realizing, they get all that information from the government.

  • 12:05:17


  • 12:05:17

    PALGUTASo the effects are far reaching. And this is only a partial shutdown. Just think if the entire government was under a shutdown. But it's huge. And people don't think about all the little things.

  • 12:05:29

    FISHERAnd for another one of those effects that we may not think about, here's Ann in Bethesda. Ann, you're on the air.

  • 12:05:35

    ANNHi. I was calling to answer your initial question about invisible effects. Well, they're visible, but not necessarily well known or understood broadly. I work for the park service and support interns year round. And the interns are environmental science, science communicators. It's all focused on science. Creating materials that help park management understand park resources to protect our natural resources for future generations. And when I'm not at work, those internships are going unfilled and that material that they create for our management is not being made.

  • 12:06:15


  • 12:06:15

    ANNAnd I find that to be sad.

  • 12:06:18

    FISHERAnd what -- are you in touch with any of the interns or the students involved?

  • 12:06:23

    ANNI am prohibited, entirely prohibited.

  • 12:06:25

    FISHERWow. Do they reach out to you? Have they--

  • 12:06:28

    ANNThey're not allowed to.

  • 12:06:30

    FISHERWell, that -- everything does come to a screeching halt in that sense. Well, thanks for the call, Ann. John Palguta, let's talk about some of the lesser known government agencies in our region that are affected by the shutdown. Now they may not be less known to you since you've written about them. But is there one that's sort of especially close to your heart?

  • 12:06:50

    PALGUTAWell, I spent 20 years of my life at a small government agency called Merit Systems Protection Board. And it's shutdown and it's -- it only has about 210 employees, but it serves an extremely important function. They basically hear and decide appeals from federal employees, who are being fired or otherwise disciplined. You know, we want employees to be held accountable, but for the right reasons not for partisan politics, etcetera.

  • 12:07:19

    PALGUTASo employees, and there's about eight to 10,000 people a year who do get fired. They have a right to appeal to the Board. And then the second thing the Board does, which was my mission there was to conduct studies of, you know, how the federal civil service system is working and report to Congress and the president. Well, that agency is completely shutdown, which means, one not only are employees being denied right now appeal rights, but that's a great example where those appeals are just going to be piling up.

  • 12:07:49

    FISHERSo if somebody had an appeal hearing scheduled for this time when the government is shutdown, do they go to the back of the line or does everyone get bumped when they reopen?

  • 12:07:57

    PALGUTAThey'll have to be rescheduled. And how they do that -- but if they're bumping somebody that somebody else's appeal gets delayed. And the Board has a case of double jeopardy too, because they have three political appointees. It's bipartisan or non-partisan. And they have to have at least two agree on a decision if there's a second level decision to the full Board. They've only had one acting chairman. The administration has not filled the other two vacancies.

  • 12:08:26

    PALGUTASo there's 2,000 appeals already lined up in a room, you know, waiting for a second political appointee to be able to come in and make those decisions on what they call petitions or review. And this is just going to make matters worse. So that's a small party and they're not doing studies. They're not issuing any new reports to Congress and the president or doing oversight, which is, you know, part of that function.

  • 12:08:53

    FISHERLet's hear from Alex in Alexandria. Alex, you're on the air.

  • 12:08:57

    ALEXHi. Yeah, so I -- agricultural producers are being, I think, hurt right now, because there are certain agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, NOAA, that participate in technical trade negotiations that are not the large ones that President Trump talks about, but they're still worth millions of dollars. And these negotiations have completely stopped. We're not able to make deals for these U.S. producers to be able to export their product. And they're missing out on a lot of money.

  • 12:09:26

    FISHERWow. Do you think you'll hear from a lot of those farmers and producers when you get back about that?

  • 12:09:33

    ALEXYeah, absolutely. I think, there's a lot of things on hold right now that they were just waiting for things to happen. And they're losing contracts and customers in these foreign countries that they're trying to export to because we can't make these deals.

  • 12:09:48

    FISHERWow. Okay. Thank you for your call, Alex. We also have a tweet from Rodger who says, "On the other side of the coin, traffic has been amazing since the shutdown. I kind of hope they never reopen." So there's a silver lining here somewhere. And some workers are enjoying the time off at least for a while. I'm sure, you know, with the expectation that they will eventually be paid if they're able to get through and, you know, not worry about being evicted from their home or something like that. There is some benefit to having some time off.

  • 12:10:20

    PALGUTAThere is if, you know, if you don't have to worry about, you know, how long is this going to go on and will I be able to -- if you've got a little financial cushion. But the caller, Ann, talking about park service, that's a great example. Those park service employees are typically dedicated people. And they, you know, being told, "You may not go to the park. You may not do your job your job. You may not protect the public's interest there." Is a big, you know, downer for them, even though, they've got the time off, I think most of them would actually rather be in the park doing their job.

  • 12:10:53

    FISHERLet's hear from Kathy in Woodbridge. Kathy, it's your turn.

  • 12:10:57

    KATHYYes, hello. I work for the Environmental Protection Agency and a lot of people don't know that EPA has a very large Homeland Security mission. I work for a research lab that does research on chemical biological radiological agents that could be used maliciously. And right now we're shutdown. So we're not doing this research. There are a number of agents that are readily available that sadly could be used malevolently and we're not really prepared for these attacks.

  • 12:11:30

    KATHYSo I find it very ironic that we're shutdown and prevented from doing research that potentially could prevent mass casualties, because the president wants a physical wall on the border. It just seems that this is not a very wise risk management decision.

  • 12:11:49

    FISHERWell, thank you, Kathy. And, John Palguta, with all -- I mean, do you see this as different from other shutdowns that we've had in the past? Does this one look -- the president threatening that this could go on for months or even years, does this have a different feel to it or have we been here before?

  • 12:12:07

    PALGUTAKind of been here before and it's sad that we haven't learned the lesson of the past. So in the 21 days shutdown in '95-'96, around this time of year I was in government. And it was like, "When is it going to end? When is it going to end?" And that's right where we are now. The only difference is the positions seem to be really, you know, locked in, but then they were in '95-'96. So I think it's, you know, Deja vu all over again.

  • 12:12:37

    FISHEROkay. And, Ross, in Bolivar, West Virginia, you're on the air.

  • 12:12:41

    ROSSHey, Mark. Despite my location, a lot of people are unaware that the Coast Guard has a large facility or medium facility up here in Harpers Ferry area, you know, the panhandle of West Virginia. The Coast Guard are the only ones not being paid of all the five military branches. And our coasts, I hope they're considered essential and that our coasts are being protected. But it's an equal threat at Long Beach and a, you know, a dirty bomb in a container or Port of New York. And it's just outrageous.

  • 12:13:14

    FISHERAnd are you --

  • 12:13:14

    ROSSAnd all for want of a stupid wall.

  • 12:13:17

    FISHERAre you in the Coast Guard?

  • 12:13:19

    ROSSI am not, but I have friends who are directly impacted.

  • 12:13:22

    FISHERAnd do you get the sense from them -- is there a sense of resentment that they are required to work without being paid? That's a different position from those who are furloughed.

  • 12:13:31

    ROSSThe three contractors I know are considered non-essential and are not working. The office, I assume is still open, although it's an admin office. I don't know one way or the other.

  • 12:13:41

    FISHERYeah. Okay, well, thanks very much for the call. And thank you, John Palguta. John Palguta is a former career executive in the federal government and now teaches at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. Thanks for being here.

  • 12:13:53

    PALGUTAMy pleasure. Thank you, Mark.

  • 12:13:55

    FISHERComing up after short break, we're going to talk about the epidemic of As that are being handed out at some schools. We'll look at concerns that grade inflation is giving area students a false sense of security. I'm Mark Fisher and this is The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

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