What happens with congressional employees if the government shuts down?

September 26, 2013
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Furloughs would not apply to members of Congress if the government shuts down next week, in part because lawmakers would have no chance to restore funding and normal operations if that happened.

But what about the rest of the legislative branch — the congressional aides, the tour guides, the dry cleaners and the shoe shiners?

Federal law prohibits furloughs for employees who are “essential,” meaning they are necessary to safeguard human life and property or support the constitutional responsibilities of lawmakers. That last exception is a broad category that could apply to virtually any Hill staffer.

(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg)
(Pete Marovich/Bloomberg)

Members of Congress and the directors of legislative agencies will decide who qualifies as “essential” and who is furloughed in their branch of government if a shutdown occurs, according to guidance from the House Administration Committee.

Examples of eligible employees include those who help with drafting legislation, researching, tallying votes, giving legal advice, handling communications or providing technological support, according to the committee.

The barber- and gift-shop employees aren’t so lucky. They fall into a category of service providers whose facilities would be closed. Same goes for the staff fitness centers, the stationary stores, the dry cleaners and the ID offices.

Child-care centers, payroll processors and post offices would operate as normal, but graphics staff would work only for floor debates, and technology specialists would offer reduced levels of support. Some dining areas would remain open with restricted hours, but others would close.

If you’re a member of the public who wants to see how Congress looks during a shutdown, don’t expect a guide. Tours would be cancelled, although the Capitol and and its surrounding congressional office buildings would remain open with limited access to parking and entrances.

As for health benefits, they would continue without interruption, even for employees who don’t work or receive pay during a shutdown. The government would retroactively deduct their missed premium contributions when pay resumes.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed or e-mail  josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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