Lawmakers detail $4 billion in shutdown costs

Mark Van Scyoc / DECEMBER 26, 2018: Sign at the visitor’s entrance of the US National Archives states it is closed due to the government shutdown. - Image 

A Senate report puts the price tag on 52 days of government shutdowns over the past five years at $4 billion, including $3.7 billion in back pay to furloughed or unpaid federal workers and $338 million in associated costs.

The report from the bipartisan staff of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee listed some of those associated costs as administrative work, lost revenue and reopening costs. Additionally, the report detailed social costs of shutdowns such as the lack of financial fraud enforcement, damage to closed or unattended national parks and delays in implementing recalls of dangerous consumer products. More substantially, the report noted estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that shutdowns take a toll on the national economy.

"Federal government shutdowns don't save money, they actually cost taxpayers billions of dollars," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the chairman of the subcommittee that handled the report.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the subcommittee ranking member, said that government shutdowns are "avoidable failures of governance that hemorrhage taxpayer dollars, put our nation's federal agencies in organizational and financial disarray and pose risks to our national security. The impacts can be felt in every corner of our country, in red states and blue states alike."

The report said lost productivity hours totaled more than 56,000 years of work time and back wages paid totaled more than $3.66 billion.

The report recommended Congress pass legislation to institute automatic continuing resolutions in the event of a lapse in appropriations -- essentially a ban on shutdowns.

Portman has offered bills in the past designed to do just that -- put in place a stopgap funding bill in the event that Congress and the White House can't agree on a funding package before the start of a new fiscal year or the expiration of a short-term continuing resolution.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected