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Federal Eye
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 04/11/2011

Stories from the shutdown that never happened

Federal employees returning to work Monday are set to undo preparations made last week in anticipation of a potential government shutdown.

Eye Opener

Several feds contacted in the hours leading up to a final budget agreement said most of last week was lost to planning meetings, reviewing contingency plans and determining whether they were “essential” or “nonessential” personnel. (Someone even started selling ”Officially Essential” T-shirts.)

“It’s frustrating not to be able to get our work done,” said Danette Woo, who handles the distribution of permits for public events at California’s Mojave National Preserve, adding that she feared a potential “post-crisis period” around her office.

“I won’t be able to just come in on Monday or Tuesday morning and hit the ground running,” she said.

We heard other interesting stories of how agencies were preparing for the worst all last week. Please share YOUR stories of how your agencies were preparing to close down in the comments section below:

• At the Office of Management and Budget — the agency responsible for approving everyone else’s shutdown plans — aides accustomed to just a handful of reporter calls regarding menial government management issues were crushed by the global attention. Reporter conference calls held before the release of the president’s budget usually yield about 100 participants; a background call hosted by OMB on Wednesday included more than 450 reporters. Before the call began, aides could hear overwhelmed operators assigned to screen the participants screaming at each other in frustration.

• During the week, some senior OMB aides assigned to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building heard from concerned staffers next door at the White House. What happens to me if a shutdown occurs? Will I be paid? Can I still use my BlackBerry? Kenneth Baer, a senior OMB official, said the administration was struggling all week to balance its goal of striking a budget deal and avoiding a shutdown against the realities of the calendar and potential panic that might ensue if federal workers didn’t learn their fates before the budget deadline.

• Among the many unforeseen circumstances last week, the U.S. Postal Service had to think about stopping deliveries of millions of letters and packages sent and received daily by the federal government. Within days, USPS officials developed a plan to withhold federal tax returns, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments, federal jury summons and mail for Capitol Hill offices until after a shutdown ended.

Several federal agencies maintain unique ZIP codes, making it easy for mail sorters to find and hold that mail, according to spokeswoman Joanne Veto. But the plans were complicated by post offices located within federal government buildings and installations slated to close to the public.

• The shutdown also disrupted travel plans for senior government officials. Midday Friday, Census Director Robert M. Groves learned that the Commerce Department’s travel office would close during a shutdown. He had to postpone a trip to California to attend a conference on the country’s growing gay population.

Gary J. Gates, a demographer organizing the conference, said he encouraged Groves to send him his presentation slides so he could present them in the director’s absence. Groves said he could send the slides, but cautioned Gates that he couldn’t share them publicly because only the director could share a Census-approved presentation. The conference went on without Groves.

• As the midnight Saturday deadline approached, administration officials drafted three memos for OMB Director Jacob J. Lew, knowing that whichever one he signed would officially announce the government’s fate at the end of an uncertain week.

The first memo announced the continuity of government operations; the second would announce a shutdown; and the third would permit the government to continue operations into Saturday based on “a high level of confidence” that Congress was on the verge of passing a spending deal, according to senior officials familiar with the planning.

Lew signed the third memo. Even though the House didn’t approve the bill until well after 12:01 a.m., the government never officially shut down.

How did shutdown preparations impact productivity at your office? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

FY-Eye: President Obama is expected this week to lay out a new approach to reducing the nation’s soaring debt.Catching up with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the most senior Republican woman in the house and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. How the commute from Virginia for some federal employees is about to get much worse. Outsted Gen. Stanley McChrystal invited by the Obama administration to lead a program for military families.

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 04/11/2011

Categories:  Eye Opener, Government Shutdown

 
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