Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Government: What's Open, What's Closed, and What It Tells You About Our Priorities

Unless you work for the United States government a shutdown of a few days, or even weeks, is unlikely to affect you. Retirees and the disabled with still get their Social Security checks. The Department of Defense will remain in readiness whenever and wherever needed. Air traffic controllers are on the job facilitating travel. It has been said that if the radio, television, and newspapers closed down along with the government, most Americans wouldn't even know there was a government shutdown. Oh, yes, and one other thing, the Internal Revenue Service cannot audit you during the shutdown.

I'm one of the small number of non-government employees affected by the shutdown. I have scheduled meetings in Washington with the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of a client. Those meetings are canceled.

The Federal Trade Commission protects American consumers from fraud in many forms. Of interest to my clients in the textile and apparel industries is protection from apparel with misleading labeling. In my two decades' experience handling FTC apparel labeling issues, I have seen that mislabeling which defrauds America consumers is more likely in the case of imported apparel. The FTC is closed for the shutdown.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission protects consumers from unsafe products. A quick perusal of CPSC's database of unsafe product recalls reveals that the bulk of unsafe products are imported. CPSC is closed for the shutdown.

The United States International Trade Commission investigates allegations of unfair trade practices relating to imports and maintains an online database of imports so that trends in imports can be followed. The USITC is closed for the shutdown and even access to the online database has been blocked.

The Department of Commerce, which includes the Office of Textiles and Apparel, assists U.S. manufactures to be competitive in the world market. According to the Washington Post, "Of the Commerce Department’s 46,420 employees, 40,234 will be furloughed. The bulk of the non-furloughed employees are at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where 5,368 of the agency’s 12,001 workers will remain on the job preparing weather, shipping and other reports important for public safety and the economy." Apparently the offices at Commerce with assist U.S. industry are closed.

Customs and Border Protection facilitates imports of foreign-origin merchandise. As of July 31, 2013, CBP had 59,561 on-board employees. CBP estimates 52,673 employees as the total number to be retained during the shutdown. CBP will continue passenger processing and cargo inspection functions at ports of entry.

There you have it! The agencies that assist America consumers and manufacturers are closed. The agency which facilitates foreign competitors to get into the U.S. market is open for business and nearly fully staffed. Such are the priorities in Washington.

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