All eyes are on Congress regarding funding to keep the U.S. government open.
If the government does shutdown, between 800,000 and 2.1 million employees across the federal government will not be at work. This will include some who work to keep our freight moving safely across the country and the world.
What does this mean for freight movements if Congress can’t come to an agreement? There is a lot of uncertainty as many agencies that regulate freight movement are just now issuing plans for the shutdown because frankly, most expect it to be averted.
From many accounts, it seems that most agencies have been feverishly working on prioritizing their work this week and we will only really know the impact when and if the shutdown happens. The Department of Transportation informed employees last Thursday, September 27, about plans for this week.
Here are some things to look for:
Truckload Border Crossings
Customs and Border Patrol will prioritize security of all kinds over speedy freight flows, so there is potential for longer delays at truck crossings along the northern and southern border. The biggest concern is for ancillary agencies that need to sign off on clearances like USDA, Forest Service, etc. How those agencies prioritize staff is a big question. Being flexible and monitoring crossings will be crucial to gauge any impacts.
Air and Ocean Imports
Air and ocean imports will have the same types of potential delays as truckload crossings; however, the ancillary agencies often play a bigger role at ports and airports. There is another round of sequestration cuts coming in October on top of the potential shutdown, which means we may actually see wait times rise regardless of a shutdown or not. Again, flexibility is essential here because consistency may be the biggest threat of both a shutdown and further sequestration.
U.S. Domestic Truckload and Intermodal Freight
Day-to-day operations will likely not be disrupted at all because FMCSA is funded as an agency outside of the funding that potentially would be shutting down as part of the continuing resolution being debated today. There may be some delays and disruptions delivering to federal facilities that require appointments as facilities may not be staffed to load or unload. Examples include places like military bases, prisons, and federal construction projects. In addition, programs like the EPA SmartWay® program may be included in any furloughed operations.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has summarized additional domestic impacts in a blog on Land Line Magazine.
In addition, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Anne S. Ferro sent out a memo saying;
“should Congress fail to prevent a lapse in FY14 appropriations, no FMCSA personnel will be furloughed. You should plan to report to work on your normal schedule on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.” “Should a lapse occur,” Ferro said, “FMCSA operations would continue as normal. The FMCSA, like FHWA (Federal Highway Administration), is funded through the Highway Trust Fund and as such would be able to continue to operate within available reserves.”
Ferro in her memo referred to another memo sent out by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. In his memo, Foxx — who last month said the government spending debate impedes infrastructure — stated that if a shutdown should occur;
“In consultation with our Office of General Counsel, we have determined which of our activities may continue under these legal requirements. “Similarly, we have determined which employees would continue to report to work in the event of a lapse in funding, and which employees would be placed on furlough. Some employees will be excepted because their work directly addresses emergency circumstances, while others will not be subject to furlough because their positions are not supported by annual appropriations, and even these categories may change based on the length of the potential shutdown.”
A formal statement from DOT Deputy Press Secretary Susan Hendrick Friday said DOT “continues to support President Obama’s proposed FY2014 budget, and we strongly believe that there is still time for Congress to avert a government shutdown;
“That said, good management requires us to prepare for a potential lapse in funds, which is why we have updated our contingency plans. As always, safety is our top priority and our plans reflect that commitment, keeping all safety-critical employees on the job, but there is no question that a shutdown will hurt our ability to move forward with much-needed transportation projects and in turn, will hurt the millions of Americans that count on them to get where they need to go faster and more efficiently.”
Editors Note: Original blog by Jason Craig - Manager, Government Affairs, C.H. Robinson, and quotations from Dorothy Cox, BulkLoadsNow Blog.
Read the related article: North American Cross-Border Shipping Challenges & Future Solutions
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