(Federal) Government Shutdown – Oh My!

I put the word “Federal” in parentheses because most people just talk about a “Government Shutdown” as though the Federal Government is the only – or at least the major – Government. This is much like when a lot of people talk about “health care” and “health insurance” they lump them together, forgetting that they are two completely different issues (but that’s another post on another site).

As this post is being written (on Friday, December 28, 2018) the Federal Government is, indeed, “shut down.” This is because they ran out of money, which should be impossible because there is supposedly a Federal Budget that determines how the money collected by the Federal Government will be spent. But as I suspect (and hope) that we all know, our Federal Government is irresponsible and untrustworthy, and they don’t follow their own – or anyone else’s – rules. Accountability of the Federal Government would help here, but, sadly, there is none.

Don’t worry, though, the “shutdown” isn’t as bad as it sounds. All of the “essential” services are still at work, and only the “non-essential” services are shut down. This begs the question: why are non-essential services ever funded? That’s a good question, and a question to which I’ve never heard a good answer.

While I think we all can agree on what some of the essential services are – the military, law enforcement, and air traffic control immediately come to mind, and I’m sure there are others – I’d like to focus on a couple of the “non-essential” services. These services are the national parks and the passport office(s) (at least I think the passport offices are shut down, from what I can gather).

The national parks being shut down is probably the most noticeable effect of a Federal Government shutdown. Many of the parks are still accessible to those who want to visit them, and the Park Rangers are probably still on duty, but the welcome centers, guides, and other services that enhance the experience of visiting somewhere like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone are almost certainly unavailable. This is unfortunate, but not life-changing. I remember the shutdown during the early fall of 2013, when the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., was closed. They had enough personnel to put up barriers to try to keep out some veterans who wanted to visit during that time, but apparently not enough to keep the outdoor memorial “open.” I’ve been to the WWII memorial, and it’s much like the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument – mostly just granite, marble, and concrete, all basically exposed to the elements, where you just walk around and look at it from different angles and read some engraved writing. Why even bother to “close” them at all?

The real question – in my mind – is why do we even have national parks in the first place? This doesn’t sound like something the framers of the Constitution envisioned when they designed our system of government. I think that all of the “national” parks should be ceded to the state or states in which they are located. Let the states fund them and provide the personnel for the welcome centers, develop interpretive exhibits, build and maintain restrooms and wheelchair ramps, and do whatever else is required. The states should then be free to charge out-of-state visitors (and even state residents, if they choose) an entry fee (some of the national parks do this now – I know for a fact that the Blue Ridge Parkway charges an entry fee, because I’ve paid it multiple times). There is simply no legitimate reason that the states can’t do the job, and they’d probably do it better.

I’d go even further, too, and say that I think that the Federal Government should not own any land at all (with the possible exception of Washington, D.C., but that’s debatable, too). The forests and undeveloped land owned by the Feds should immediately be ceded to the states in which they are located. Also, military bases, test ranges, and related lands should be transitioned to the states. The Federal Government could then lease the lands and buildings from the states for whatever terms they can agree on. This would have the very advantageous effect of letting the states directly compete for base locations, instead of having those decisions affected by lobbyists, favor-trading among perhaps less-than-scrupulous congressmen, and backroom deals. A similar approach would work with any other federally owned land.

Alas, returning these lands to the states would then strengthen the states in relation to the Federal Government, which (begin sarcasm) must not happen – we must have the biggest, strongest Federal Government we can imagine (end sarcasm). Because the Federal Government would have to agree to this, and thus lose some power, it will never happen.

Which brings us to the passport office. A passport these days costs about $100, and any U.S. citizen wanting to travel outside the country has to have one, which sounds like it could be quite a bit of money. So why not let the passport office be self-sustaining? The process and requirements could – and should – be prescribed by the Federal Government, but the offices with the forms, digital cameras, and the actual passport printers could be run at the state level, or even contracted out as a for-profit opportunity (multiple providers should keep the costs down and provide acceptable quality of service).

These are just two examples of over-reach by the Federal Government that do not require either national administration or funding. I suspect there are many others. If the Local Tax Plan were implemented, the states could easily force the above-described changes, along with others that would, overall, save the country money and give the power back to the citizens.