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Federal security, defense agencies increasingly in cross hairs of political fights, KU experts say

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

LAWRENCE — Congress could potentially shut down the U.S. Department of Homeland Security if it doesn't resolve a budget fight over President Obama's immigration policies.

University of Kansas researchers who study federal agencies and partisanship say U.S. agencies that provide defense and security used to be typically exempt from such political turmoil until recent years.

Those experts are available to discuss trends surrounding the potential government shutdown of DHS that would affect services of border security to airport security screening, and, according to news reports, could result in 30,000 workers being furloughed and 200,000 others deemed essential to working without pay.

Holly T. Goerdel, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, can speak about federal agencies, including public management and accountability issues. Goerdel most recently studied accountability in wartime contracting among federal government agencies.

Goerdel said political budget fights threaten an agency's ability to act in its own expertise and that in recent years security- and defense-based federal agencies have become increasingly susceptible. A DHS shutdown would affect day-to-day operations immediately but could also have long-term effects on the agency itself.

"This would disrupt current security management of airports, borders and coast lines. These would be the visible, immediate impacts," she said. "Less visible and less predictable is the reverberating, negative effects these actions will have on agency morale within an agency already afflicted with the lowest morale of any large federal agency."

Patrick Miller, assistant professor of political science, studies the effects of partisanship on public opinion and polling and recently authored an article on partisanship attitudes among voters in the journal Politics, Groups and Identities.

Miller said the DHS stalemate is the next round in an ongoing fight over the Obama administration's immigration executive order and that politically it resembles past bouts of gridlock in the Senate no matter which party was in the majority. While centrists from both parties are seeking to broker a compromise, it might be too late, he said.

"Public opinion polling has generally shown the public supportive of the president's immigration policy, so the risk here is heavier for Republicans," Miller said. "They need to balance two things: pleasing their party base by opposing the president and guarding their party brand going into the 2016 election cycle. Barring a compromise, Republican leaders may find themselves having to choose between angering their core voters and possibly taking the blame for yet another shutdown."


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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