Close Call

The consequences of budget brinksmanship.

In early 1996, shortly after the last federal government shutdown, President Clinton went before Congress to deliver his State of the Union address. At one point, he paused to recognize Richard Dean, a Vietnam veteran and longtime Social Security Administration employee, who was sitting in the audience.

"Last year," Clinton said of Dean, "he was hard at work in the federal building in Oklahoma City when the blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble down all around him. He re-entered that building four times. He saved the lives of three women. . . .

"But Richard Dean's story doesn't end there. This last November, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. And the second time the government shut down he continued helping Social Security recipients, but he was working without pay. On behalf of Richard Dean and his family, and all the other people who are out there working every day doing a good job for the American people, I challenge all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again."

Perhaps members of Congress, future lawmakers, and presidents-in-waiting were paying attention that night, because government hasn't been shut down since. But Congress and the White House came awfully close in early April. The story of how and why that happened, and the toll it took on the federal workforce, is told by Robert Brodsky in our cover story this month.

At Government Executive, we began following the twists and turns of the story last fall, when Republicans took control of the House and GOP members, especially Tea Party-backed freshmen, began threatening to close down federal operations if their demands for deep cuts in spending weren't met.

We published more than 150 stories on the specter of a shutdown from late October to the first week of April on our two websites, GovExec.com and Nextgov.

On April 8, as the midnight deadline to reach a budget deal approached, our sites received nearly half a million page views, as federal employees across the country desperately tried to figure out whether they'd be furloughed. "No official word yet, although hints that we are almost all unessential," one employee told us. "More info on GovExec than from management."

We were proud to be able to provide as much information as we could. But we certainly hope we don't have to do it again in September, when the deadline for the fiscal 2012 budget looms.

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