GAO has found that the four agencies it reviewed had made preparations for a partial shutdown in advance of the one that occurred in late 2018 but were not prepared for it to last as long as it eventually did, 35 days.
It said that those agencies—CBP, IRS, International Trade Administration and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative—had largely complied in advance with OMB guidance on developing and updating contingency plans that lay out procedures for shutting down, deciding which employees are excepted from being furloughed for continuity of operations and other reasons, and keeping employees and other stakeholders informed.
Those four agencies were impacted in differing ways, it added, with 91 percent of CBP employees staying on the job due to the nature of their work but only 5 percent of ITA employees, while the IRS at first furloughed about nine-tenths of employees but called back many as the shutdown continued but the OTR did the opposite, at first having available funding to keep operating but later furloughing virtually all employees.
However, only CBP had even partially addressed the possibilities of a shutdown lasting more than five days, GAO found, leaving agency officials to adapt on the fly on issues such as access to facilities and IT systems and which employees should be furloughed and which excepted as the shutdown dragged on.
“Given the length of some shutdowns, it is important for agencies to have robust plans and established internal controls to effectively communicate, plan for potential changes, and manage operations prior to and during a shutdown. In addition, documentation of these plans and controls helps ensure that agencies can replicate their actions in the event of future shutdowns,” it said.