A “Trickle Down Effect”

Government shutdown hurts EPA, surrounding businesses


Federal Employee Robert Pope (third from left) and his EPA coworkers affected by the shutdown.

From Dec. 22, 2018 through Jan. 25, 2019, the government was partially shutdown. The shutdown directly affected over 800,000 government employees.

The shutdown started due to a debate between Democrats and Republicans over funding a $5 billion wall on the Mexican border. President Trump and his supporters were in favor of the wall, but many Democrats were not. Trump used the partial government shutdown as leverage for a Democratic vote for the wall.

Robert Pope was one of the employees affected by the shutdown. He works for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the project manager for cleaning up hazardous and radioactive waste sites in the southeast. Pope was one of the 360,000 federal employees who was not paid or put to work during the shutdown, with another 440,000 employees working with delayed pay.

Pope has seen the shutdown’s effect extend beyond his department.

EPA workers and private contractors drill soil cores contaminated with mercury. Photo courtesy of Robert Pope.

“I’ve got a coworker whose brother is actually in the Coast Guard and he had to keep working on a ship doing drug intersection off the coast of Florida,” Pope said. “He…had a wife and an infant child who have been going to the food bank because they didn’t have a choice.”

Pope will be compensated for his paychecks lost during the shutdown. Not everyone is as lucky.

Non-federal employees who were also out of work during the shutdown will not be compensated for the money they lost. Pope has many private contractors who are paid for each project they work on. Because none of Pope’s sites were running, five or six contractors were out of work, and they won’t receive any financial compensation for that time.

“One thing you really haven’t heard a whole lot about in the press is that even though 800,000 federal employees were out of work, there are about 1.2 million more contractors who were hired to help us do our work. That’s 1.2 million people who also were not able to work or get paid,” Pope said.

The shutdown was a difficult time for Pope’s family and many others. During the shutdown, the government cut down on costs, such as no longer using a cleaning service. Prior to the shutdown, Pope paid a small cleaning business to clean their home every two weeks. This small business was greatly impacted by the sudden decrease in profits during the shutdown.

The shutting down of the EPA also impacted other small businesses.

“I know a couple of these little cafes around our building that closed during the shutdown because there was no one coming in or, you know, just not enough people to keep the business open,” Pope said.

The shutdown affected larger businesses as well. One example is the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center Parking Deck. This parking center is located near the EPA building and lost a lot of business during the shutdown.

“There’s a parking garage that no one parked in for a month, so that’s a month of income lost. It’s a parking lot that holds like 1,000 cars and they all pay like $75 a month and so that’s a $75,000 impact,” Pope said.

Partial government shutdowns have been used throughout history to advance the president politically. The first official partial shutdown under President Gerald Ford began Sept. 30, 1976 lasted ten days and was over funding for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW).

As one of the many people affected by the shutdown, Pope believes that it is completely avoidable and should have never happened.

“Using a shutdown of the government to try to negotiate a political position is just a very poor way to govern. It [has] happened multiple times now that I have been a federal employee, and every time, I felt like it’s a failure of our elected leaders to get their job done,” Pope said.

Pope’s belief that the shutdown was unnecessary was further reinforced by the wide impact it had.

“It has this pretty bad trickle down effect,” said Pope. “The impact is beyond the federal employees.”