Dip in federal government satisfaction is not just a ‘now’ problem

U.S. federal government services experienced a drop in customer satisfaction for the first time in two years, dipping 1.1 percent to an ACSI score of 68.9 (out of 100), per our latest Federal Government Report.

While this downturn is not a result of the government shutdown, make no mistake: The longest shutdown in U.S. history – at 35 days – has left an indelible mark on the American people – and not in a good way.

President Trump signed a bill to reopen the government for three weeks. However, the Feb. 15 deadline is going to be here before you know it, and the fear of another potential shutdown is most certainly on the minds of the 800,000 federal employees who returned to work on Jan. 28. But it won’t just be those federal workers feeling the impact.

The millions of everyday citizens that interact with the nine federal departments and agencies that closed their doors during the shutdown felt the effects too. And while data collection for our 2018 report ended before the shutdown began, we can expect the effects to be reflected in the satisfaction marks come 2019.

That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the federal government.

What did the government shutdown impact?

Thirty-five days doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things. But a lot can happen in that time.

Thanks to The New York Times’ government shutdown timeline, we have a running list of what took place between Dec. 22 and Jan. 25. Without getting into everything, it’s clear the effects of the shutdown are far-reaching, extending well beyond those experienced by federal government employees.

For example, the Department of Interior scored a 78 in our latest report. This ties for the highest among federal departments. However, national parks fall under Interior, and the shutdown has not been kind to these landmarks.

We’ve seen injuries at places like Big Bend National Park, where a man fell and broke his leg. He was carried to safety by fellow park visitors and a park ranger, but the park had limited rescue services because of the shutdown. Other services, like road maintenance and trash pickup, were suspended by the National Park Service back on Dec. 30, creating unsafe, unsanitary, and unpleasant conditions.

During the shutdown, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo were closed. As was the National Gallery of Art. And then, of course, there are the airports.

Many Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers and controllers began calling in sick instead of working without pay. At best, the disruption caused inconveniences like longer lines at security checkpoints; worst, it caused chaos and safety violations. Miami International Airport closed a terminal on Jan. 12 because it didn’t have enough security screeners. On Jan. 25, New York’s La Guardia Airport ceased allowing inbound flights due to delays, causing air travel congestion along the Eastern Seaboard. And on Jan. 2, a passenger flew from Atlanta to Tokyo with a handgun.

These are merely some of the incidents that took place during the shutdown. And just because the government is back open – at least for the next three weeks – most people aren’t simply going to forgive and forget all the turbulence, especially with the lingering ramifications.

Future costs of the shutdown

The shutdown is over for now. The consequences of that shutdown, however, will be long-lasting.

The National Taxpayer Advocate, a government watchdog group, told House staffers that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will likely need 12 to 18 months to recover from the shutdown.

The IRS has millions of unanswered taxpayer questions to deal with. It needs to hire thousands of employees for this tax filing season, and it needs to make up lost time when it comes to training workers. But the IRS is just one department that’s feeling the pressure.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to issue grants to prevent food shortages and a health care crisis, and the National Park Service has an amenities problem on its hand. This is likely only the beginning.

The federal government shutdown cost the economy $11 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Most of that loss will be recouped once the shutdown ends and folks return to work, but the CBO estimates that $3 billion is “permanently lost.”

Although our 2018 report was not influenced by the shutdown itself, satisfaction in the federal government was already heading south. Even with the government back up and running (for now, anyway), it’s almost impossible to look at all that’s happened without expecting a lingering ripple effect throughout the rest of 2019.

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