Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity cri­sis is not on bor­der

The Columbus Dispatch - - Opinion -

For all his talk about a sup­posed na­tional-se­cu­rity cri­sis on the bor­der with Mex­ico, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is ig­nor­ing the po­ten­tial cri­sis the fed­eral shut­down is cre­at­ing else­where in the coun­try.

Trump has es­sen­tially taken nine fed­eral de­part­ments and dozens of fed­eral agen­cies hostage in an ef­fort to co­erce Con­gress into spend­ing $5.7 bil­lion on the big­ger, longer bor­der wall he promised on the cam­paign trail to build. Vi­tal gov­ern­ment ser­vices and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are be­ing sac­ri­ficed in the po­lit­i­cal stand­off, and there’s no end in sight as the shut­down is mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties less safe.

There’s al­ready a short­age of air-traf­fic con­trollers across the avi­a­tion sys­tem, and the shut­down has sus­pended train­ing of new ones. Con­trollers cur­rently on the job are re­quired to work with­out pay, adding an­other anx­i­ety to an al­ready stress­ful job of manag­ing the na­tion’s airspace.

Na­tional parks are be­ing trashed and tram­pled by vis­i­tors while park ser­vice em­ploy­ees are fur­loughed. Se­cu­rity lines at air­ports are get­ting longer as Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion work­ers, who are re­quired to work with­out pay, have be­gun call­ing in sick in large num­bers. And some low-in­come renters who rely on fed­eral hous­ing could face evic­tion after rental-as­sis­tance con­tracts ex­pired on Jan. 1 be­cause the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment can’t re­new them un­til the gov­ern­ment re­opens.

These are ba­sic func­tions of gov­ern­ment — pro­tect­ing res­i­dents and pub­lic as­sets. They should not be chips in a high-stakes po­lit­i­cal poker game.

There will surely be per­sonal crises after more than 800,000 fed­eral work­ers at shut­tered agen­cies did not get paid Fri­day. That in­cludes the work­ers who have been idled by fur­loughs and “es­sen­tial” em­ploy­ees who have been re­quired to work even though there’s no money to pay them. Also los­ing out are a slew of con­trac­tors that pro­vide goods and ser­vices to fed­eral agen­cies and the agen­cies’ cus­tomers.

Many Amer­i­cans live pay­check to pay­check, and fed­eral work­ers are no ex­cep­tion. One missed pay­check — for­go­ing wages for half the month — can be dev­as­tat­ing for fam­i­lies in fi­nan­cially pre­car­i­ous po­si­tions.

For some fed­eral work­ers, fi­nan­cial trou­bles trig­gered by missed pay­checks could im­peril their ca­reers. The union for Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion agents warned Con­gress that agents un­dergo rou­tine fi­nan­cial back­ground checks to en­sure they are fi­nan­cially stable and re­spon­si­ble. Miss­ing a pay­ment could slow or block an agent’s clear­ance.

Trump did pledge Thurs­day to sign a bill pro­vid­ing them back pay should the shut­down ever end.

“I’m sure that the peo­ple that are on the re­ceiv­ing end will make ad­just­ments,” he said when asked if he could re­late to work­ers who couldn’t pay their bills.

The longer the shut­down drags on, the more fed­eral work­ers — and the peo­ple who rely on their ser­vices — will have to “make ad­just­ments.” Fed­eral em­ploy­ees will have to man­age their own fi­nan­cial panic, while the broader pub­lic will watch as the na­tional parks de­te­ri­o­rate, air travel slows, fed­eral forests go un­main­tained and the fed­eral safety net for the na­tion’s most vul­ner­a­ble frays.

All this for a wall that is rich in ex­clu­sion­ary sym­bol­ism but un­likely to have much ef­fect on the prob­lems Trump says he’s try­ing to solve, such as hu­man traf­fick­ing and drug smug­gling. There is most cer­tainly a cri­sis un­der­way. It’s a cri­sis of con­fi­dence in the pres­i­dency of the United States.

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