The government shutdown makes no sense for 300 million Americans

The government shutdown makes no sense for 300 million Americans

October 16, 2013

October 16, 2013

by Ray DuBois, Executive Director of Biodesign at ASU

We are now 14 days into the federal government shutdown. While some are feeling the pain more than others -- such as those who depend on social services, the national parks system, or early childhood education -- the collateral damage caused by this failure of our legislators to govern is reverberating throughout the country. Love it or hate it, the law creating the Affordable Health Care Act passed, just like every other law that the federal government passed in the last 230 years. It is absurd that a handful of representatives is allowed to hogtie a nation of 300 million people. To what end? None, as far as I can tell, except for irreparable damage to many federal employees who do not deserve to have years of hard work and dedication destroyed on a political whim.

Here is what is happening in the scientific realm as a result of the shutdown:

  • 52% of the employees of the Department of Health and Human Services have been sent home. This includes 68% of the workforce at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC tracks outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as flu, salmonella, and much diseases like H7N9. If the CDC can't monitor seasonal flu activity, then surveillance for H7N9 and MERS will be markedly reduced and physicians and nurses won't be able to mobilize to protect the public should an outbreak occur. In the worst case scenario, thousands of people could die, which seems an exorbitant price to pay to accommodate a few lawmakers who have a distaste for Obamacare. In addition, CDC scientists' work to prevent HIV/AIDS, other STDs and tuberculosis has been completely discontinued for the time being. 
  • Perhaps even more cruel and draconian, the National Institutes of Health will turn away over 200 patients from their clinical research center, including many children with cancer, for whom clinical trials at the NIH is their last hope. How does a parent explain to a dying child that potentially helpful available medicines are being locked away, because a few politicians don't like the new health care law? Does anybody acknowledge the sad irony here?
  • The NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, has become a virtual ghost town, as hundreds of experiments with cell lines and mice have been abandoned, because the researchers are not allowed to go to work. We are talking about the obliteration of decades and decades of laborious, incremental advances. Some of the research animal models will have to be destroyed, since there are not enough folks around to care for them. The waste is both unconscionable and unnecessary.
  • The National Science Foundation had to put three Antarctic science stations on standby. While they haven't been completely abandoned, the window for conducting much of the research is rapidly closing as the season progresses. 
  • The same is true for NASA and the launch of the next module headed for Mars. The difference between success and failure is a matter of timing, and that time is rapidly slipping away.

USA Today estimates that the shutdown itself is costing over $160 million per day.  No one has had the to courage to calculate what the cost of starting the government back up will be. A courageous few have admitted that the long-term impact will be truly devastating.  Of one thing I am certain, our politicians are wasting away the accomplishments and potential impact of our country's best and brightest scientists, not to mention opening ourselves up to a potential devastating outbreak of disease with the flu season coming into full swing. 

This is an unwanted battle, fought hard, fought needlessly and fought in such a way that the outcome will produce no winners -- just 300 million losers. It is time for this ridiculous brinksmanship to be over.

"Common sense is not so common."

--Voltaire