Now only a little more than a month out from the start of the new fiscal year October 1 with only limited progress having been made toward continuing agency funding, there is growing anxiety in the federal workforce–but still no guidance from the administration–over the potential for a partial government shutdown.
Shutdowns frequently are threatened–often several times a year since Congress often only extends authority temporarily–but one hasn’t occurred since 2013, when many employees were put on unpaid furlough for about two weeks.
Decisions on who would be furloughed and who would be expected to remain at work–although unpaid for the meantime–are up to individual agencies. OMB typically issues a memo formally instructing agencies to review those plans shortly before a shutdown would hit.
Most of those agency plans–posted on the OMB site–were last updated two years ago or less and likely would be little changed. They require that most federal functions would continue, and the majority of employees remain on the job, for public safety, health, security and similar reasons.
In 2013, for example, all but about 800,000 of the 2.1 million non-postal federal workforce remained on the job the entire time, and nearly half of those sent home were called back to work, mostly by DoD, even before the shutdown ended. At that time, as with prior lapses going back many years, all employees eventually were paid for the funding lapse period regardless of whether they had stayed on the job (employees were not later repaid for a separate set of furloughs in 2013 related to “sequestration” budget limits).
Also, some agencies, or parts of them, are not affected by appropriations lapses because of their self-funding nature–the U.S. Postal Service being the largest example–or because they have multi-year budgets or because they can use money from trust funds they operate or various fees they charge to remain fully open, at least for a time.
Also, in some cases funding is in place for some agencies but not for others. Just before the current congressional recess, the House passed an appropriations bill containing full-year funding for DoD, VA, Energy and some of DHS, although the Senate did not take it up. If that bill is enacted, those agencies would not be subject to a shutdown, leaving Congress in the familiar position of deciding whether to temporarily extend funding for others before the deadline.
There are many possible scenarios and the issue won’t be decided until Congress returns after Labor Day.