The Washington Post

Government shutdown preparations begin as funding talks stall

The Obama administration is alerting employees to the possibility of a partial government shutdown if talks on bills to fund the government and extend the payroll tax cut collapse later this week.

With Congress facing a midnight Friday deadline to either pass a short-term or final measure to fund government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads planned to send an e-mail message to workers by close of business Wednesday informing them that a shutdown could occur, according to multiple administration officials familiar with the plans.

A shutdown would not apply to a wide swath of agencies and departments that already have full-year funding in place thanks to a partial spending bill that passed in November, including the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, House and Urban Development, Justice, State, and Transportation, NASA, and other smaller agencies covered by separate appropriations measures.

In a statement, Office of Management and Budget spokesman Kenneth Baer said Wednesday that “There is no reason for the government to shut down.”Congress could act quickly to pass a short- or long-term spending measure, Baer said, as they have seven times already this year.

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“We do need to be prepared for any contingency,” Baer said, which is why agencies were informing workers by e-mail.

In one example of the messages sent to federal workers Wednesday, the Interior Department told staffers that should a funding lapse occur, “Bargaining unit employees who are not engaged in one of the excepted functions will be placed in a furlough status,” the message said.

Decisions on which “essential” workers and functions would continue during a shutdown would be made before it begins, officials said, but official guidance on contingency operations generally requires anyone working on issues related to public health and safety to keep working.

Congress has passed two short-term spending measures to keep the government running since the fiscal year began Oct. 1. Lawmakers were expected this week to release a long-term spending measure to keep the government functional through September, but have yet to do so. Republicans insisted Tuesday they had a tentative deal with Democrats on the Appropriations Committee to fund the government through next September.

Republican leaders charged Tuesday that the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have instructed lawmakers who brokered the pact to withhold their final signatures from a report that would send the deal for a vote until votes are held on an extension of the payroll tax.

Federal agencies issued similar warnings to workers in early April as Congress and the White House faced a similar funding impasse. Those warnings came only after days of uncertainty and complaints from federal workers and their union leaders that the administration was keeping them in the dark about potential contingency plans.

Many employees also complained that they did not receive formal communications regarding contingency plans in a timely manner.

William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said a shutdown “would be devastating for federal workers at agencies where funding has not yet been approved by Congress.”

“Federal workers shouldn’t have to spend the holidays worrying about how to make their next mortgage payment simply because Congress can’t get its act together,” Dougan said in a statement. “Federal employees, and indeed all Americans, deserve better from their government.”

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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