Agencies Updating Plans for Employee Furloughs in Shutdown

With just over a week to go before another budgetary deadline threatening a partial government shutdown, a number of agencies have released updated “contingency plans” that determine which employees would be sent home on unpaid furlough and which kept on the job.

The latest extension of spending authority lapses at midnight next Friday (December 22) and with much of congressional attention focused on tax policy, little progress seems to have been made since the latest extension just ahead of the previous deadline of December 8. Differences over policies and funding levels, not only between the parties but also among Republicans, remain unresolved, leading to speculation that no agreement for the remainder of the current fiscal year will be achieved before the next deadline.

A further short-term extension of several days is possible, but more likely would be an extension into January—or early February at the latest. Going beyond that time period would keep Congress working on the fiscal 2018 budget until just before the White House is to propose the fiscal 2019 budget and the process would start all over again.

Meanwhile, numerous agencies have responded to OMB’s directive to review their contingency plans by sending updated versions to OMB, which in turn is posting them on its site. Most so far are relatively small, but larger independent agencies and Cabinet departments with updated plans include Commerce, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury, VA, EPA, GSA, HUD, NASA, OPM and SSA.

In the last shutdown in 2013, all but about 800,000 of the 2.1 million executive branch employees outside the Postal Service and intelligence agencies remained on the job for health, safety, security and other reasons, but the percentages vary greatly among agencies depending on their missions and their type of funding. The VA, for example says that 95.5 percent of its employees would continue working. Some agency plans don’t specify percentages but merely describe the types of jobs in which employees would continue working.

Employees whose positions are funded by regular appropriations but who continue working would not be paid until funding authority is restored; law requires that they be paid at that time. Those put on furlough traditionally also have been paid later as if they had worked, but that is up to the White House and Congress to decide each time.