A Temporary Peace
President Trump agreed to a deal to temporarily reopen the government for a total time of three weeks on January 25. For three weeks the government will remain open and negotiations on border security will be on-going. If a deal on border security cannot be brokered by the end of the three weeks the government will enter another shutdown. So as of now, the 800,000 federal workers that were on temporary leave are once again reinstated. This means that, for the transportation industry, things are back to normal for the time being. Border delays shouldn’t be as bad. As well as, the issues faced at ports during the shutdown should now be done. However, what happened to the industry as a whole during the 35 days of the shutdown? What will happen to the transportation industry if the shutdown is reinstated? This entry aims to answer those questions.
Government Shutdown Recap
Transportation hasn’t been free from controversy, delays, or issues during the shutdown. When it comes to 3PL the transportation industry intersects with multiple other industries. A few of these industries’ governmental bodies still operated during the shutdown. Furthermore, the ones that still operated were: the Department of Energy and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
All of the other governmental bodies have negative downsides of some kind. Customs and Border, for example, receive some of the most major negative downsides of the shutdown. Not only that, but some state-specific Department of Transportation projects are indefinitely delayed because of the initial shutdown and its potential continuation. “The existing projects will be OK as long as things are still moving forward with the Federal Highway [Administration] being able to approve our reimbursements,” Oklahoma Department of Transportation agency spokeswoman Terri Angier said. “However, authorization for future projects is tied to the continuing resolution and the shutdown.” Oklahoma is a crossroads for major freight transportation. The projects that have been delayed include freight corridors, interstate truck traffic “optimization pathways”, etc. “Almost all of our routes are used for freight and truck traffic because centrally where we’re located, you’ll touch one corner of our state or another,” Angier said. “You’re going catch one of the highways in Oklahoma at some point.”
The main issue behind all the issues surrounding transportation and the shutdown are the employees, or rather, the lack of employees. Many agencies and departments have furloughed a significant portion of their employees in order to continue their most minimal functions. The Federal Aviation Administration furloughed 13,944 positions out of 44,687. Next, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration furloughed 330 out of 587 staffers. Lastly, the Federal Railroad Administration furloughed 420 out of 935 positions. These positions weren’t just extra spots to make sure things run more smoothly either.
FMCSA & FHA
No, the loss of these positions ensured a significant loss in efficiency, communications, and safety. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration suspended law enforcement assistance and air traffic performance analysis. However, neither the FMCSA and the Federal Highway Administration furloughed any of their combined 3,840 employees. This is due to these agencies being funded by the Highway Trust Fund. Additionally, it’s important to consider that the Highway Trust Fund will no longer be funding these agencies as of 2020. Should another shutdown occur following this shift both of the aforementioned agencies will be just as affected as the others.
Previously, it was mentioned that the FAA had to compromise their communications with law enforcement and air traffic performance. The loss of both of these functions compromises the level of safety that can be expected out of their services. Furthermore, in the past month that the shutdown has been active the 87 safety accidents have had their on-site investigations curtailed.
How the Government Shutdown Affects Safety
The National Transportation Safety Board is tasked with investigating road, rail, marine, and airline accidents. Additionally, that means that nearly all transportation accidents that have happened in the past month have been shelved due to a lack of staffing. For example, a capsized oil-spill response vessel on the lower Mississippi River is among the incidents that have been curtailed due to the shutdown. The effects of these accidents will also be felt long after the shutdown does come to an end. Also, that’s not even mentioning the amount of TSA workers that were calling in sick the past week. Nearly 10% of TSA workers were absent the past week and that’s especially dangerous in such a risk-averse industry.
Peace is the Ultimate Answer
What’s left? The only thing a transportation professional can do at the moment is keep in contact with logistics experts and stay up-to-date on all government shutdown related news.