The federal shutdown and maritime

I wrote this column in early October during the first significant government shutdown since 1996. Back then, as now, Congress failed to pass a spending bill and the federal government shut its doors.

The government was forced to furlough federal workers, close national parks and museums, suspend the visa application process, stop issuing passports, halt medical research and suspend many other federal functions.

At first glance, some think that a government shutdown only affects a small portion of the public. But when combined with the budget sequestration, the government shutdown has had a significant effect on the maritime industry and related businesses.

For example, the government shutdown affected mariner licensing and renewals. The Coast Guard’s Regional Exam Centers have been closed. How will mariner license applications be impacted? (Editor’s note: On Oct. 9, the Coast Guard granted an extension to mariners whose credentials expire between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30.)

There are significant trickle-down costs associated with a government shutdown or sequestration that we do not immediately feel but have real impacts on small businesses. There is also a confidence issue that influences our buying habits and even our hiring behavior. 

Some think that closing museums and national parks do little more than inconvenience tourists and travelers. But how about vessel operators who carry passengers to national parks and national landmarks such as Fort Sumter or the Statue of Liberty? These businesses and their employees are affected along with the companies who supply them with products and services and the communities where they operate.

Will navigation and commerce on our waterways be interrupted and will overall marine safety be compromised? The marine industry is resilient and capable, but our livelihoods and the safety of our crews and passengers hinge on having reliable waterways with locks, dams and aids to navigation that function. Will we be forced to tie up our vessels because the government functions that ensure safe navigation are not there?

I am in favor of balancing federal budgets and getting our government house in order, but in the future, we should think more about the real economic impacts that occur from hastily shutting things down. 

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