OMB has backed the Interior Department’s use of a budgetary work-around to keep certain services operating in last year’s partial government shutdown, actions that were interpreted from different political directions either as good-faith efforts to continue providing services to the public or as maneuvers to downplay the seriousness of shutting down large parts of the government.
GAO later in the year issued legal opinions finding violations of the Antideficiency Act by several departments that had used maneuvers to keep some employees on the job during the month-long funding lapse that ended in late January, even though those employees did not fall under the exceptions for security or safety reasons.
In the case of Interior, GAO questioned the use of recreation fees for purposes such as trash collection and maintenance of restrooms and sanitation at national park sites that remained accessible to visitors during the shutdown. Those fees are not to be used for basic, day-to-day services, GAO said.
However, OMB has now rejected GAO’s conclusion, saying those fees are available for purposes including “visitor enjoyment, visitor access, and health and safety. The Interior Department for many years has used that authority to fund activities such as maintenance and trash collection, OMB said.
An Antideficiency Act violation could lead to career ramifications for those involved. However, for Interior at least, that now has been virtually ruled out by OMB’s response.