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| Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn

A recent USA Today article discussed how the recent cutbacks and job furloughs related to the government shutdown are endangering the safety of large swaths of Americans. While the FAA has ensured that air-traffic controllers stay on the job and the FBI is keeping investigators in the field searching for bad guys, a number of other vital federal agencies have been forced to suspend or dramatically curtail their regulatory activities.

One good example of the impact of the shutdown involves the case of a recent salmonella outbreak in the Western U.S. that has sickened nearly 300 people. Investigators with the CDC say their investigation got off to a very slow start due to the closure of a computer network, known as PulseNet, that links public health labs across the country that are devoted to tracking trends in food-borne illness outbreaks.

When a deadly bus accident left eight people dead in Tennessee last week, the NTSB said that it would be unable to send anyone to investigate the cause of the accident due to the shutdown, leaving local law enforcement without a valuable resource to get to the bottom of the deadly crash. Only a few days later, when an explosion in a Washington, DC Metro tunnel killed a worker, the NTSB again said it would be unable to investigate due to lack of funding.

USA Today further noted how nearly 2,000 domestic violence agencies which rely at least partially on government funding are now operating on reserve money and may be forced to close as early as next week.

Yet another area impacted by the shutdown is the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which has revealed that approximately 60 percent of its staff has been furloughed and that only limited mine inspections are being conducted. Since the government shutdown began there were three coal mine fatalities in three consecutive days. The last time the coal industry faced three consecutive fatal days was more than 10 years ago.

The hope is that lawmakers get their acts together and agree on a plan as soon as possible to ensure the government and the vital regulatory agencies become fully functional again. In the meantime, everyone should cross their fingers that no terrible new diseases emerge.


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