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One forgotten case is all it would take to render the shutdown that’s happening right now extremely stupid.
The government is shut down today and it’s a little difficult to know which services are open and which are closed. But the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division and the US Attorney’s offices across the nation cannot be operating at full capacity.
Attorney General Eric Holder was described as by Politico as showing a “flash of anger” in a speech yesterday. Holder indicated that he personally would take a pay cut inline with the furloughed employees at Justice.
Politico quoted the Attorney General as follows:
“We will certainly make sure that national security is protected. On the criminal side, our lawyers, our investigators will still be in the field, but on the civil side and in a range of other things the Justice Department is entrusted to do, we will not do the job that the American people expect of us.”
The article went on to discuss the Department’s shutdown plan as follows:
Under the department’s shutdown plan, about 85% of its personnel will be on duty even if the budget standoff continues. Most of those employees have been deemed essential because they are involve in criminal law enforcement or guarding prisoners or have to meet court-imposed deadlines. Some can keep working because their salaries come from accounts funded by forfeitures or user fees.
This could hardly be a more counterproductive state of affairs. Now, I understand why the Attorney General was angry. Of course, we understand why the criminal prosecutorial functions of the DOJ have to be kept running. This report makes it sound as if the DOJ will just keep going and only a few things won’t be handled. That’s not how a real workplace works though. If you cut back to 85 percent of the workforce and some parts have to keep going, it means some things are not going to get done well or at all.
Most people sign up to join the DOJ for the best of reasons. That may be hard for anybody who has never worked with them to believe, but it’s true. So, now we are shutting down the government and the civil section may or may not be able to operate at full capacity. The 15% who won’t be there can’t simply be replaced by nothing.
So, things will not get done.
What if it’s one big False Claims Act case which is not getting prosecuted as a result? More than 500 get filed in a year, so if the civil section is not operating at full capacity, it could very well happen. It could be a billion-dollar collection that gets lost in the shutdown shuffle. It could be a case that does not involve a lot of money, but may expose a matter of public safety, which then gets lost or delayed significantly.
Perhaps it is a legal matter that, like many False Claims Act cases, exposes a dangerous or expensive practice in the administration of health care. Shut down the government to oppose Obamacare and you risk harming our ability to fight fraud in Medicare/Medicaid and the health care industry. Of course, this is just one impact of the foolishness of this action.
People do not lightly bring these matters to the attention of the Department and to give them their due, generally speaking the Department takes all cases filed very seriously. Now as a result of the shutdown, however, real harm will come to the administration of justice. At best, important cases will be delayed. At worst something will get lost or denied for lack of resources. Good people, as the Washington Post editorialized today, will be reluctant to give over their entire careers to government service.
There is lasting damage when a few Congressmen choose to play with the serious business of the government.