Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Rest of the Story

We got this off the wires this morning.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal government agencies in the capital region will remain closed for a second day on Tuesday as residents brace for another blizzard while trying to clean up from a weekend storm that paralyzed the area with two feet of snow. Another big winter storm was expected to hit the U.S. mid-Atlantic from about noon/1700 GMT on Tuesday and last through Wednesday, the National Weather Service forecast on Monday. Projected snowfall ranged from 10 to 20 inches, it said.

Now, I know what some people are saying: "So, the government is shut down, and I can't tell the difference." Well, there's two things wrong with that. For one thing, it hasn't really shut down. For another, if it literally had shut down, you would certainly notice. We have. We didn't get any mail yesterday, and it's unlikely we'll get it today. And with another storm on the way later today and tomorrow ... well, "the check's in the mail" takes on less meaning, doesn't it?

When the government in Washington "shuts down" due either to weather or to the budget not being passed, the reality is that not all of it does. Roughly half the services of the Federal government (I believe the number is around forty percent) are considered "essential" and remain open; the armed services and the coast guard, the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, offices and bureaus devoted to "emergency response" duties, the managers and security guards and minimum custodial services of each and every Federal building including those which are closed -- the list goes on. It also includes those which process any kind of public assistance at the Federal level (lest we forget) Social Security. Believe me, if your Aunt Minnie didn't get her Social Security check this month, the cries of everyone in that situation would have been heard across the land, and snow plows from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, would converge upon the Nation's capital, and dump every inch of the snow in the Potomac River.

Now, I know what some other people are saying: "So, you guys can't drive in the snow. How do you explain other cities being able to function in the same condition?" They're not Washington. They don't have anywhere near as high a percentage of foreign visitors and temporary residents, many of whom never saw snow before moving here, and have no intention of staying around long enough to get used to it. Some of them come from countries where the driving regulations are ... well, a bit more tolerant. And many of them have diplomatic visas. The remaining population still lives with weather like this for only a few weeks out of the year, which may or may not be enough to get used to it. So not even a four-wheel drive vehicle makes up for a power grid that is ill-prepared for chronic winter conditions, or a population that is no more prepared. Finally, add to the mix the fact that this is a "company town", one that is largely dependent on one employer ...

On the bright side, you couldn't get a passport processed in this area today. But if you still think this is a case for smaller government, stay tuned ....

1 comment:

Paul Zummo said...

And there's pretty much no chance it will be open tomorrow, and Thursday is probably 50/50 at best. I'm actually getting antsy - I don't work for the Federal Gov, but when they're off, we're off.

The shelves were cleared at Giant this morning. After what happened this weekend, I can't say I blame people. Our street still hasn't been plowed. Hopefully we won't lose power again. Good luck to you.