For the first time, the federal government has shut down with one party in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. This after the attempts to extend the deadline for funding the government without bipartisan support failed Friday night.

Shutdowns have become something of a spectacle in political media, with shutdown clocks being something network news seems to run yearly, but with how rarely they happen, it can be easy to assume that this is alarmist and hyperbolic. It’s been argued by conservatives before that shutdowns are actually good.

Now that the federal government is closed for business, what actually happens?

Prior to 1980, not much happened during a shutdown. Agencies continued to operate assuming funding would be restored so long as Congress didn’t specifically close them. That changed with decisions by Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, who limited things that continued to operate only to essential services.

So, some things actually do close. Passport services, national tourism sites like the Smithsonian, even the panda cam at the National Zoo were all impacted by the last government shutdown. But larger and more important programs are impacted as well.

According to Politifact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent stop monitoring diseases, federal law enforcement agents (including those involved in border security) stop being recruited and trained, food and workplace safety inspections stop and tax refunds may be delayed.

Some services like courts, the mail and Social Security payments will probably not be impacted.

On top of that, during the height of the 2013 shutdown about 850,000 government employees were furloughed per day. The lack of paychecks for furloughed employees has obvious impact on working Americans, but also broader economic impacts as money is removed from the economy.

These furloughs will impact every single department of the federal government, from almost total shuttering of the Department of Education to almost 80,000 employees of Treasury and Commerce not exporting American goods to 370,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense who will need to spend thousands of hours implementing contingency plans to restart the department following their furlough.

Dramatic furloughs at Energy will result in weeks lost at the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency monitoring of hazardous waste sites will stop.

While the President is perfectly happy with shutting down the government to seem tough on immigration and border security, the people working for that government, receiving protections and investments from that government are surely less excited.


Katelyn Kivel is a journalist and political scientist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

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