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Government shutdown leaves many health and safety watchdogs off the beat

The impact of the government shutdown varies from agency to agency: 52 percent of workers at the Department of Health and Human Services are furloughed, for instance, while at the Environmental Protection Agency, 94 percent are at home, off the job.

The shutdown is highlighting the importance of health, safety, environmental and consumer regulations. They help ensure we have clean air and water, safe food and toys, workplaces free of hazards and so much more. Even die-hard anti-government politicians are realizing that safeguards are popular with the public. That’s why, for instance, the GOP tried to pass a measure that would put food inspectors back to work.

What happens when you take worker safety inspectors off the beat? When environmental regulators aren’t able to do their work?

Here’s some of the best reporting from the past couple days on the impacts of the shutdown:

•    Bloomberg: Furloughed Inspectors Leave Gaps in Safety Oversight

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government has sidelined thousands of inspectors who monitor everything from air and water pollution to safety hazards at factories and the condition of nursing homes.

•    AP: Govt health and safety efforts slowed or halted

The government shutdown has slowed or halted federal efforts to protect Americans’ health and safety, from probes into the cause of transportation and workplace accidents to tracking the flu.

•    USA Today: Government shutdown puts squeeze on health, safety

Cutbacks and furloughs are hampering investigations ranging from a fatal subway accident in Washington, the heart of the shutdown crisis, to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened people in at least 18 Western states. Domestic violence shelters are threatened, mine safety could be, and efforts to improve vital weather forecasting are on hold.

•    Huffington Post: The Government Shutdown Trickle-Down: 50 Effects Of The Budget Standstill

Businesses are seeing fewer customers. Research institutions are cutting back. Court cases are being delayed. Assistance for low-income families has stopped. Entire industries have been placed on pause.

•    The Hill: Chemical agency warns it has ‘no ability’ to respond if disaster strikes

The chairman of the federal Chemical Safety Board warned Tuesday that the agency would be unable to respond to a major disaster, thanks to a lingering government shutdown that has forced the furlough of more than 90 percent of its workers.

•    CNN: Shutdown furloughs about to hit nuclear safety agency

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday it expects to furlough some 3,600 employees at the close of business on Thursday if Republicans and Democrats in Congress still have not resolved their impasse over federal spending.

•    Politico: Government shutdown worst-case scenario realized: Salmonella outbreak

A multi-state Salmonella outbreak is exactly the scenario food safety advocates and lawmakers warned about when the federal government was forced to shut down last week. Now that nightmare has come true, though the federal agencies charged with arresting foodborne illnesses are scrambling to make due.

Said Amit Narang, Public Citizen’s regulatory policy advocate:

I’m sure many readers remember the famous line from President Reagan: Government isn’t the solution … Government is the problem. These last couple weeks have taught the American public in dramatic and tragic fashion that not having a functioning government is a real problem.