How does the government shutdown affect trucking?

Update – January 25: Federal employees are heading back to work for at least three weeks, under an interim budget agreement.

The government shutdown started December 22, and it’s already the longest in U.S. history. More than 800,000 Federal employees are affected, and 420,000 of them continue to work without pay. Some government services are suspended, and others are just slower than usual. Maybe a lot slower.

Does the shutdown affect over-the-road freight transportation? Spoiler alert: Only a little, according to Transport Topics.

Photo by F.Malotaux

First, the good news

Freight is still flowing. There’s no evidence that the shutdown is affecting the amount of freight available in the spot market or anywhere else. Even military cargo is still moving, according to a report by Todd Dills at Overdrive. That’s because the military is fully funded already, and its budget is not included in the stalled appropriations bill.

Ports continue to operate. Ships are still docking at U.S. ports, but they may not be unloaded promptly. That’s because many Federal employees who handle inspections and customs are furloughed. But if the shutdown continues much longer, this could get complicated, according to a series of reports on CNBC.

Weigh stations aren’t affected. Most weigh stations are operated by the individual state Departments of Transportation, so a Federal government shutdown doesn’t affect them. (Not everyone thinks that it’s good news.)

FMCSA is on the job. If you were planning to get your motor carrier authority, you can still do it. You can also still get inspected. (Okay, maybe that’s not such good news.) The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is funded by multi-year appropriations, so it’s not affected by this lapse in the annual budget. All FMCSA employees continue to work and receive paychecks, according to the shutdown checklist published by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

FHWA is funded. Like the FMCSA, the Federal Highway Administration will continue to operate normally.

Not so good

No change in HOS rules. If you were looking forward to a change in any Federal rules, including drivers’ Hours of Service, you’ll probably have to wait, says Commercial Carrier Journal. “FMCSA officials hinted in December that a notice of proposed rulemaking…could come as early as March,” according to CCJ’s James Jaillet. Even the ELD exemption for livestock haulers is not a done deal, because it was included in the budget that wasn’t approved. The FMCSA is operating at full staff, but new rules require input from other Federal agencies that are operating with a skeleton crew.

NHTSA staff is reduced. More than half the 600 employees are furloughed at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Interstate highways and public transportation will continue to operate. For consumers, NHTSA has also suspended testing and rating of new cars, and reviews of manufacturing defects and recalls. (Update: The National Transportation and Safety Board is not able to investigate accidents during the shutdown, as 90% of NTSB employees are furloughed, according to the Wall Street Journal.)

Tax refunds may be delayed. On a more personal note, your tax refund may take longer than usual. The IRS announced that there will be no delay in processing tax refunds for the 2018 tax year, but Kiplinger’s Rocky Mengle is skeptical. Mengle recommends filing early, so if there’s a delay, your return won’t be at the bottom of the backlogged pile.

Fed employees are still not getting paid. There are upwards of 800,000 Federal workers who didn’t get a paycheck last week, and that’s gotta hurt. It may not have a huge impact on the overall economy, because total unemployment is so low that there are fewer people going without paychecks than there were in recent years. But for now, those furloughed workers are strapped for cash, and many of them are cutting expenses to the bone. There’s a ripple effect on their families, neighbors, and communities, so it’s nice to see people like Chef José Andrés reaching out through his disaster relief organization. Andrés has organized relief efforts in the past, in regions affected by hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

Has the government shutdown made a difference in your work or your personal life?