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Federal Eye
Posted at 01:54 PM ET, 03/06/2011

Government shutdown: Facts and figures

Despite assurances from the Obama administration and congressional leaders that they don’t want a government shutdown, each day closer to April 8 without a final agreement makes the suspension of government services more of a possibility.

So let’s review some of the basic shutdown facts published in a Congressional Research Service report on the issue, sent to lawmakers in February and obtained by The Federal Eye.

How long do shutdowns last?

Six shutdowns occurred between fiscal year 1977 and fiscal year 1980, ranging from eight to 17 full days, according to the report. From fiscal 1981 to 1995, nine shutdowns occurred, lasting no longer than three full days.

In fiscal 1996, the first budget impasse led to a five-day shutdown from Nov. 13-19, 1995. The second shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, stretched 21 days from Dec. 15, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996.

How many federal workers are impacted by shutdowns?

The first Clinton-era government shutdown led to the furlough of about 800,000 federal employees, according to CRS. The second shutdown furloughed about 284,000 federal employees. An untold number of federal contractors were also impacted. The federal government doesn’t track the number of contractors employed by agencies.

What kind of work can continue during a shutdown?

According to federal guidelines established in the 1980s, agencies should continue activities that:

1.) Provide for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property.

2.) Provide for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes.

3.) Conduct essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property, including:

a.) Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care.

b.) Activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food and drugs and safe use of hazardous materials.

c.) The continuance of air traffic control and other transportation safety functions and the protection of transport property.

d.) Border and coastal protection and surveillance.

e.) Protection of Federal lands, buildings, waterways, equipment and other property owned by the United States.

f.) Care of prisoners and other persons in the custody of the United States.

g.) Law enforcement and criminal investigations.

h.) Emergency and disaster assistance.

i.) Activities essential to the preservation of the essential elements of the money and banking system of the United States, including borrowing and tax collection activities of the Treasury.

j.) Activities that ensure production of power and maintenance of the power distribution system.

k.) Activities necessary to maintain protection of research property.

How have shutdowns impacted the general public?

The suspension of various government service impacted Americans in several ways during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, according to CRS:

Health: The National Institutes of Health couldn’t accept new patients for clinical research and didn’t answer hotline calls regarding diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped disease surveillance and toxic waste cleanup projects at 609 sites were reported stopped, causing the furlough of 2,400 Superfund workers.

Law Enforcement and Public Safety: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms delayed the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications. Work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases reportedly was suspended. The U.S. Border Patrol canceled the recruitment and hiring of 400 new agents and various delinquent child-support cases were delayed.

Parks, Museums, and Monuments: The National Park Service shuttered 368 sites, resulting in the loss of about 7 million visitors and revenues to local communities. The closure of national monuments and other museums resulted in the loss of about 2 million visitors.

Visas and Passports: Up to 30,000 applications by foreigners

for visas went unprocessed each day and 200,000 applications for U.S. passports went unanswered. Both moves resulted in millions of dollars in losses for tourism-dependent industries and U.S. airlines.

Military veterans: Health, welfare, financial and travel services for veterans were curtailed.

Federal contracts: Of the $18 billion in contracts in the Washington region, about 20 percent -- or $3.7 billion -- was impacted.

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