The request is the first known request from a top White House official for a broad accounting of the spreading impact of the shutdown, which has entered its fifth week and is the longest in U.S. history. So far, top White House officials have been particularly focused on lengthening wait times at airport security, but not the sprawling interruption of programs elsewhere in the government.
And the request startled some agency officials, who had been struggling to manage the fallout from the shutdown so far. Many of them are simply trying to determine how to keep some agency functions operating at a time when a growing number of workers are refusing to show up because they aren’t getting paid.
Now, in addition to dealing with the daily problems caused by the shutdowns, Mulvaney is forcing them to comprehend how to run parts of their bureaucracies without money for an extended period of time. The impact is expected to spread to at least tens of millions of people, who rely on government services that are impacted.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose Mulvaney’s demand.
A senior White House budget official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the request, said “prudent management means planning and preparing for events without known end-dates.” These requests will be first presented to the White House’s budget office and then sent to Mulvaney. The official said the request does not signal whether the administration believes the shutdown will last to March.
The shutdown has already caused the federal government to stop paying 800,000 employees, but the impact is expected to become exponentially broader in the coming weeks. The federal court system is likely to halt major operations after Feb. 1, and the Department of Agriculture does not have funding to pay food stamp benefits in March to roughly 40 million people.
The White House also faces a backlash from many federal workers, who face missing a second consecutive paycheck in the coming days. Some workers have balked at continuing without being paid, and their unions are filing legal action against the administration.
And there were new signs on Wednesday that federal agencies are still trying to comprehend the scope of their growing problems.
The U.S. General Services Administration, an agency that manages many of the government’s leases and contracts, notified a number of departments that it is likely to need new flexibility from Congress in order for it to make utility and lease payments in the coming days. It has asked Congress for the ability to redirect $520 million so that it doesn’t fall behind on these costs. The request is still pending.
Many federal agencies lease space in commercial buildings around the country, and if the GSA can’t make rental payments for these departments the government could incur major fees and other costs. This could also have a big impact on the property owners, which rely on large government payments for their income. GSA has stressed to agencies that they will not be evicted if the payments are missed, but it is unclear what precisely would happen.
In a notice to companies leasing space to the federal government, GSA acknowledged their concerns “regarding GSA’s ability to make timely rent payments.” It told them it was awaiting word from Congress as to whether it would be given new flexibility.
Meanwhile, the White House Office of Management and Budget has tried to take multiple steps to blunt the impact of the shutdown, and this week it sent guidance to agencies that would make it easier for some federal contractors to receive payments.
Senior OMB officials have tried to serve as a clearinghouse for agency leaders as they work to deal with the repercussions of the shutdown, but Mulvaney’s direct involvement reflects how the White House is now attempting to understand the longer-term implications.