Shutdown Sting, Small at Start, Would Grow as Agencies Shutter

By Cheryl Bolen, Roxana Tiron, Emily Wilkins, Teaganne Finn and Jonathan Nicholson

The impact of a government shutdown would be felt minimally over the weekend, more on Monday morning, and become more painful with each passing day, according to a former Office of Management and Budget official.

The current stopgap funding resolution expires at midnight Jan. 19. If no agreement is reached, all non-exempted federal employees would have to stop working immediately.

“The weekend is a little different because people [federal employees] will have already left work,” Kenneth Baer, former associate director for communications at OMB, now the CEO of Crosscut Strategies, told Bloomberg Government.

There are some federal facilities usually open on the weekend that would be closed, such as national parks, Baer said.

But come Monday morning, most federal workers would go to their offices and be told whether they are “essential” or not, he said.

‘Stuff Stops’

If they are nonessential, which a vast majority would be, they would hand over their government phones and devices and leave, Baer said.

A sampling of federal agencies by Bloomberg Government found that some, like the Education Department, where a prolonged shutdown would eventually shutter most of the department while others, like the Defense Department, would feel far fewer effects.

The impact would be felt by the veteran who is appealing a benefit and needs a check—but finds that nobody is there to hear his appeal, Baer said. It is the person who has the appointment on Monday morning for his citizenship interview, which won’t happen, he said.

And the family that planned a vacation at Yellowstone National Park on Jan. 22 would be out of luck, as would the small business looking for a permit, Baer said. “All that stuff stops,” he said.

Logistics of a Shutdown

OMB is the lead decision-making agency in the event of a government shutdown, ultimately deciding when and how federal employees are furloughed or can continue to work.

All departments and agencies have submitted individual contingency plans for a government shutdown, including the specific employees who are “exempt” and can still work.

These employees, known as essential workers, are those whose compensation is financed by a resource other than annual appropriations or who are needed to:

• Perform activities expressly authorized by law.

• Perform activities necessarily implied by law.

• Discharge the president’s constitutional duties and powers; or

• Protect life and property.

Aid Workers Protected

At the Education Department, 90 percent of employees would be furloughed the first week, according to its fiscal 2018 shutdown plan. If the shutdown lasts longer than a week, other employees would be brought back as needed, but the department doesn’t anticipate more than 6 percent of staff returning to work.

The 13 million students receiving federal student aid would receive payments during a government shutdown, while more than a week without a spending bill would reduce federal funding for school districts, vocational program for adults with disabilities, and college and universities, according to the plan.

The bulk of Education Department staff working during a shutdown would be assisting with the major financial aid programs: Pell Grants and Direct Student Loans. Smaller programs such as work-study and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants would lack customer service and administrative services during a shutdown, although aid would still be provided.

Unpaid Soldiers

At the Pentagon and military bases, active-duty troops will remain on duty but with one big change: no pay.

If there’s a shutdown, active-duty military would continue in a normal duty status, regardless of their positions, without receiving pay, according to spokesman Chris Sherwood. Civilian employees, by contrast, will be called to work based on whether their positions are deemed essential. For example, essential positions at military bases around the country are those that secure equipment or life, according to Sherwood.

The employees who are deemed nonessential will be furloughed, he said. They would still have to show up at work Monday to sign papers and then go home. Defense Department personnel would only receive back pay if Congress specifically appropriates it, Sherwood said.

Food Hotline Open

At the Agriculture Department, food safety inspectors would stay on the job, as one of seven types of shutdown-exempt workers there.

The exemptions include security personnel to protect life and property, including the security of the Secretary of Agriculture; emergency and natural disaster response; protection of federal lands; all contracts in support of cybersecurity and infrastructure operations to support key positions and essential personnel; collection and payment activities for previous legal obligations; and emergency and defense preparedness.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service would “take regulatory enforcement actions when appropriate, and conduct laboratory testing to ensure the safety and wholesomeness of all meat, poultry, and egg products before the USDA mark of inspection can be applied,” a USDA spokesperson said.

In addition, the FSIS Meat and Poultry hotline, which takes more than 80,000 calls annually on food safety and preparation, would still be open.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com; Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bgov.com; Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com; Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bgov.com and Jonathan Nicholson in Washington at jnicholson@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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