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Editorial: Come On, Man!

Washington is dysfunctional even when it is functioning. Last week, the town found a way to top itself.

Thanks to the shutdown, the Federal Communications Commission had to cancel a workshop on cyber security and protecting kids online because it sent all but a skeleton crew home, an embarrassment being repeated at government agencies elsewhere in the city.

Oh, and the Senate Commerce Committee delayed a vote on a new FCC commissioner. Thanks to Congress’ inability to separate political advantage from public good, the FCC stopped the clock on its important merger reviews and delayed work on the broadcast incentive auctions that many believe hold the keys to the fates of broadcasters and wireless companies and the fortunes of many other stakeholders (see Cover Story). Yes there were more crucial consequences, but every little bit hurts.

The FCC is already years late reviewing, and hopefully loosening, some of its media ownership rules in recognition of a changed marketplace, and takes plenty of time to make decisions as it is. The last thing the commission needs is a legitimate reason, or blanket excuse, to lengthen its event horizons.

We also have a small bone to pick. The FCC website has been inaccessible during the shutdown. It was not alone, with the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Agriculture sites also not available (and there may have been others). But many government agency sites did stay up as static archives of sorts, with the message that they might not be updated. Not even “would not,” but “might not.” When FCC staffers return, we will be interested to learn the difference between the FCC (and FTC) sites and the many others—including myriad independent agencies—that allowed the public to continue to use them. Perhaps without staffers at the helm, the FCC and FTC sites’ archived content (which, selfishly, this magazine wished to access) could not similarly be obtained.

That must be the case, but it will be good to get confirmation to dispel the nagging notion it could have been an effort to buttress the administration point about the hardship of the shutdown, which Democrats are blaming entirely on Republicans (and vice versa), by making it appear harder than it actually is.

We would not want to think either side was punishing the public in an effort to achieve their goal of ending the stalemate, as laudable as that goal might be. (OK, there’s nothing laudable about this mess; “less un-laudable” perhaps.)

If we’re lucky, the government will be back in business by the time this ink hits the page. But it was not looking good at presstime, as the rhetorical barbs continued to be inflicted ad infinitum. Either way, responsible leadership, not luck, should be driving this runaway train.

Legislators last week were comparing each other to everything from locusts— the last shutdown was 17 years ago—to terrorists to Breaking Bad’s Walter White. Frankly, we’ll miss Walter, but we can only hope this is the last toxic brew of vitriol cooked up by Congress.