Updated at 11:52 a.m. 4/9/2011:
The government is likely to shut down at midnight Friday. The government narrowly avoided a shutdown Friday.
Here are the answers to questions we received from readers regarding what they could expect if the government shut down. Washington Post reporters gathered information throughout the week.
If you are a federal worker looking for specifics regarding your agency’s shutdown plans, we has posted those here.
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Get answers that are specific to you:
- I am a federal worker.
- I am a tourist.
- I just have general questions.
Here are all the questions we have answers for. We will be updating this list as new information is made available:
- What about the Horse Center at Rock Creek Park?
- Will the D.C. Metro system be operational?
- What about government health care services like Medicare and NIH?
- What will happen on Capitol Hill?
- Will flights still be running?
- Will I be able to get a passport?
- What will NASA do? Will the space shuttle launch
- Will Amtrak rail service be affected by a shutdown?
- I live in Washington, D.C. Will I need to show up for jury duty?
- What will happen to the National Forest Service & National Parks?
- Will Washington, D.C. municipal services be affected?
- Will the Cherry Blossom Parade still happen?
- How would a shutdown affect school lunches and other public school programs?
- Would the mail get delivered and will post offices be open?
- What about Medicare and Medicaid and billings to hospitals?
- How about clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health?
- What about civilian employees of the Defense Department?
- How about White House staffers?
- What about other branches of government?
- What happens to the EPA and federal environmental responsibilities?
- What about Social Security?
- What about government Web sites?
- What will happen to public museums like the Smithsonian Institution?
- I am a federal worker. Will I get paid if there’s a shutdown? (Updated 4/8/2011 9:21 a.m.)
- Am I an “essential” worker or an “excepted employee”? How will I know if I am?
- I am a federal worker. If I do work during the shutdown, what happens?
- I am a government contractor. What should I do?
- I am a member of the military. What does the shutdown mean for me? Will I get paid?
- Do I still need to do my taxes if the government shuts down?
- What will happen to federal home loan guarantees?
- What will happen to the National Archives?
- What about border patrol agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard?
I am a member of the military. Will I get paid?
A shutdown would also affect pay for members of the military, said senior government officials familiar with the planning. If the current funding expires on Friday, in the middle of the military’s two-week pay period, theDefense Department would distribute paychecks for the first week, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. In an effort to avoid such disruption, House Republicans introduced legislation that would pay troops if a deal isn’t reached. Congressional aides couldn’t say whether such a bill would pass either chamber before Friday.
I am a government contractor. What should I do?
Short answer: It depends. Veterans of previous shutdowns are reminding contractors that they could be locked out of their offices or forced to cut short any government-funded travel. During a shutdown, experts suggest contracting firms should ask employees to complete overdue training programs, take vacations or temporarily reassign them to other projects. Worst case, some firms may need to furlough employees. Boehner on Friday said any shutdown could interrupt contracts and force the government to pay more in eventual overtime costs. As each agency makes a determination regarding contract.
I am a federal worker. If I do work during the shutdown, what happens? (Updated 4/8/2011 9:21 a.m.)
During a shutdown, you may not volunteer to do work if you are deemed “non-essential,” and whether you get paid depends on the agency you work for. According to administration documentation: “Congress will sort out who gets paid for time worked during ashutdown and those employees will be paid when Congress passes and the president signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.” Executive Branch ethics regulations governing whether federal employees can take jobs elsewhere during a shutdown still apply, and paid vacation time cannot be taken during a government shutdown. If an “essential” or “excepted” employee does not report for work as ordered, they will be deemed AWOL and be subject to “subsequent consequences.”
In addition, the Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports that, as part of a potential budget deal, lawmakers are considering a cut to federal worker pay and benefits.
What about civilian employees of the Defense Department?
Civilian DOD workers would undergo the same consideration as all other civilian federal employees, a senior administration official said.
Am I an “essential” worker or an “excepted employee”? How will I know if I am?
The administration has sent out a question-and-answer sheet outlining who is “essential” and who is not. An “essential” employee and “excepted employee” are the same thing — the latter is the term used by the Office of Personnell Management for employees who work during a shutdown. According to the administration Q&A, “Each Agency will communicate with its emploees whether they’re ‘essential’ or ‘non-essential.’” It is also worth noting that employees who are deemed “emergency employees” are not necessarily ”essential.”
I am a federal worker. Will I get paid if there’s a shutdown?
Quick answer: It depends. The Obama administration is warning federal workers that they cannot work for free during any shutdown nor can they take paid leave. In instructions updated and issued Tuesday evening, the Office of Personnel Management issued updated guidance on how a shutdown of even one day would impact each worker’s bottom line. You can read the full guidance here.
How about White House staffers?
The administration anticipates “significantly lower staffing levels” at the White House during a shutdown, according to a senior administration official.
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What will happen on Capitol Hill?
The Committee on House Administration has released a document detailing plans for the Capitol Building in the event of a government shutdown. Guide-led tours will be cancelled as will Staff-led tours. Tours led by members of Congress (with groups of 10 or fewer) will be permitted on the House side of the Capitol from 9 a.m. -8 p.m. daily.
If you are a member of Congress concerned about your drycleaning (those services will be closed), Wellness Center (closed), Dining room (closed), Post Office (open!), shoe shine (closed) and fitness center (closed), this is the document for you.
What will happen to the National Forest Service & National Parks?
National Forest System recreation sites across the U.S. that require a Forest Service employee to stay open would be closed to the public.
The National Parks Conservation Association released the following facts regarding what to expect if the government shuts down and you are planning on visiting one of the National Parks, including the White House and Washington Monument among other sites:
- All 394 national parks across the country would close. Park visitor center and other facilities would close. Education programs curtailed, special events cancelled, permits issued for special activities rescinded, hotels and campgrounds emptied and entrances secured.
- National park sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Washington Monument, White House Visitor Center, Independence Hall, Yellowstone National Park, and visitor centers nationwide would close.
- Typically in April, NPS has 805,000 visits per day, and visitors spend $32 million per day in local economies.
- Nearly 372 events planned in national parks would be cancelled. The Park Service has a series of events planned to commemorate the 150thanniversary of the Civil War and places like Gettysburg and Fort Sumter. And special events are planned for National Parks Week, April 16-23.
What will happen to the National Archives?
Managers at the National Archives said all of its operations would shutter, with the exception of workers who protect collections.
What will happen to public museums like the Smithsonian Institution?
If budget talks break down Friday evening and a government shutdown starts Saturday morning, about 500,000 visitors could be turned away this weekend alone from the National Zoo and the major Smithsonian museums on the Mall, according to Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. But private museums like the Newseum, The Phillips Collection and Corcoran Gallery of Art will remain open. And, yes, guards will continue to keep watch over museums and zoo animals will continue to be fed.
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What will happen to the Horse Center at Rock Creek Park?
According to a statement from the Rock Creek Park Horse Center general manager, the Center will be closed effective one minute after midnight Saturday. ”Minimal staff will be permitted to c are for the horses” and “boarders will be permitted to be on the premise to care for and exercise their hourses — including riding in the rings, but not on the trails.”
Will the Washington D.C. Metro system be operational?
The Post’s Dr. Gridlock has the latest on the plans for the D.C. Metro system.:
Metro officials said the transit authority would continue to operate on a normal schedule, but might make adjustments to the number of rail cars in service and reduce the number of eight-car trains serving rail lines. The shutdown could reduce Metro ridership 5 to 20 percent, officials estimated.
What about government health care services like Medicare and NIH?
The Department of Health and Human Services has released a document detailing what consumers of federal government health services may expect. The National Institutes of Health will no longer be taking on new clinical trials or new patients. Some Medicare services, like 1-800 Medicare and the Medicare and You web updates will be limited. Expect longer wait times.
Will flights still be running?
According to an Federal Aviation Administration official, the FAA will retain all employees necessary to keep the national airspace system operating safely, but non-critical safety functions will be suspended including aircraft certification, the development, testing and evaluation of NexGen technologies and most budget and administrative activities.
Will I be able to get a passport?
If there's a shutdown, the State Department will cancel "Passport Day in the USA 2011", scheduled for Saturday, in which passport offices were supposed to hold special hours and the public was encouraged to "bring the entire family" to experience top flight customer service. A State Department spokeswoman said only emergency passports will be processed during a shutdown and there will be no unusual hours.
What will NASA do? Will the space shuttle still launch?
The space shuttle Endeavor would still launch on April 29 only if the federal worker fulough did not go longer than week. NASA headquarters spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz issued the following statement regarding the shuttle launch:
Our understanding is if there is a relatively short gov't shutdown, it should not impact launch date. We have contingency days – we have several days we can play with. We wouldn't expect launch day to change unless furlough lasts longer than a week. If it lasted longer than a week. Every day beyond a week we would push launch date back a day.
If we're furloughed, we wouldn't be prepping for launch – essentially we would eat up our contingency days. We have 9 days in the schedule in event something goes wrong, leak, whatever, we have 9 days that give us some buffer. If we have furlough we apply contingency does to furlough days. Once we're past that we have no more margin.
Once it's out there, we typically we bring it back in only if we had a fix. Presumably we would leave it out there. We have occasionally brought it in for hurricane scare. I don't imagine we would roll back only if delay, only if there's something to fix. The shuttle is protected.
We would anticipate crew would have cease training. We haven't received formal notifications yet from OPM. That would be anticipation. If we can't work at launch pad, I would think we couldn't work at training center either.
Will Amtrak rail service be affected by a shutdown?
No. Amtrak does get some funding from the federal government but it also receives revenue from ticket sales and has enough funds to maintain its full schedule during a "short-term" government shutdown, an Amtrak spokeswoman said.
I live in Washington, D.C. Will I need to show up for jury duty?
Yes. The D.C. Courts are federally funded and considered “essential functions.” So proceedings will go forward in the event of a governmetn shutdown. Anything related to case resolution is also considered an “essential function,” so, yes, jurors will have to report for jury duty.
Would Washington, D.C. municipal services will be affected?
Yes. Trash collection and street sweeping in the District would be suspended and D.C. libraries and Department of Motor Vehicles offices would close unless Congress acts to provide the federal funding needed for those operations.
Will the Cherry Blossom Parade still go on?
Yes. The organizers said, Friday, that the National Cherry Blossom Parade would go on despite a government shutdown. The parade, scheduled for Saturday, is attended by more than 100,000 people every year with thousands of participants. Read more about the Cherry Blossom Parade on Post Now.
How would a shutdown affect school lunches and other public school programs?
We have no information at all to suggest any cutoff is at hand for school lunches or other longstanding federal programs in public schools. To the contrary: federal funding for public schools typically is granted to states well in advance of the time the actual expense is incurred. Tens of billions of dollars in grants were awarded last July and October--money that can be spent in the current school year and beyond. This means as a practical matter that nearly all federal programs affecting schools will continue even if there is a temporary federal shutdown. It's worth noting, too, that the vast majority of public school funding comes from state and local governments, not from Washington.
Would the mail get delivered and will post offices be open?
Postal Service is self-funded; it will not be affected by a federal shutdown.
When will the government actually shut down?
If an agreement is not reached on the 2011 budget by midnight Friday, the government will shutdown starting Saturday.
How long will the shutdown last?
It could last as little as a few hours or as long as a few weeks. Shutdowns in the 1970s and 1980s ranged from three days to 17 days, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). A five-day shutdown occurred in November 1995, and a shutdown stretching from mid-December 1995 to early January 1996 lasted 21 days — the longest in modern history.
What about Social Security?
As of Wednesday morning, the Social Security Administration is still finalizing its plans, but current beneficiaries would continue receiving their benefits, according to a senior administration official.
What about government Web sites?
Government Web sites not tied to “essential” government services would not update during a shutdown, a senior administration official said.
What about Medicare and Medicaid and billings to hospitals?
Medicare would be funded for at least a short period of time, according to a senior administration official.
How about clinical trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health?
The NIH will not admit new patients or initiate any new clinical trials, but clinical trials in process would continue.
What about other branches of government?
Each branch of government – executive, legislative and judicial -- will be impacted and must implement its shutdown plans.
Do I still need to do my taxes if the government shuts down?
Quick answer: Yes. You need to finish your taxes on time (postmarked April 18) in order to not incur a penalty for filing late. However, officials familiar with plans warned privately that the IRS would cease processing refunds for paper-submitted tax returns.
What will happen to federal home loan guarantees?
According to officials familiar with the situation, The Federal Housing Administration would withhold guarantees for home loans.
What about the National Institutes of Health?
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health who do clinical work would be considered essential, an agency official said.
What about border patrol agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard?
The Department of Homeland Security would suspend its e-Verify system, which allows employers to check a worker’s immigration status, officials said. But most of DHS’s 230,000 employees hold jobs that would continue during an impasse — without pay. Agents would still protect U.S. borders, airport security guards would screen passenger bags, and the U.S. Coast Guard would continue to patrol the nation’s waters.
What happens to the EPA and federal environmental responsibilities?
The EPA will cease environmental impact statements, likely slowing the approval for some construction projects, according to a senior administration official. It would also cease permitting locations for air and land and water pollution limits.
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