Federal agencies have been told to begin planning for a partial government shutdown starting Oct. 1, including taking a fresh look at which employees would stay on the job and which would be sent home, if a funding agreement isn’t reached by then.
Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia M. Burwell on Tuesday issued a memo ordering agencies to update plans they had made in similar past situations of budgetary gridlock.
“The Administration does not want a lapse in appropriations to occur,” Burwell wrote. “There is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations, and the Administration is willing to work with Congress to enact a short-term continuing resolution to fund critical Government operations and allow Congress the time to complete the full year 2014 appropriations. However, prudent management requires that agencies be prepared for the possibility of a lapse.”
In a partial shutdown, certain operations continue, and employees needed to keep those functions running remain on the job. Excepted functions commonly include those necessary for national security, protection of life and property, and making benefit payments under entitlement programs.
The memo said that agency leaders “should carefully review determinations regarding which employees would be necessary for the agency’s continued performance of those ‘excepted’ functions, to ensure that these case-by-case determinations are consistent with the applicable legal requirements.”
Self-funding operations that do not draw appropriations from the Treasury, the largest of which is the U.S. Postal Service, also would continue.
In a similar situation in early 2011, OMB said that of the roughly 2.1 million non-postal federal employees, all but about 800,000 would be kept on the job. Those continuing to work would be unpaid at first, but entitled to retroactive pay once new funding is in place.
“Without further specific direction or enactment by Congress, all excepted employees are entitled to receive payment for obligations incurred by their agencies for their performance of excepted work during the period of the appropriations lapse,” the memo says. “After appropriations are enacted, payroll centers will pay all excepted employees for time worked.”
Other employees typically would be given up to a half-day of work to “provide necessary notices and contact information, secure their files, complete time and attendance records, and otherwise make preparations to preserve their work”—and then would have to stay off the job.
They would not be allowed to work voluntarily during “shutdown furlough” time and they could not substitute paid time off such as annual leave, according to Office of Personnel Management guidance.
Whether they would be paid later for that time would be up to Congress and the White House.
“Federal employees who have been furloughed under a shutdown historically have received their salaries retroactively. However, there appears to be no guarantee that employees placed on shutdown furlough would receive such pay,” according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.
The OMB memo also addresses issues involving making payments under grants and contracts, continued spending to keep information technology systems running, and other administrative matters.
The most recent partial government shutdown occurred in late 1995 into early 1996, although the threat has been raised many times since then.