Fedweek

Congress is back at work this week and planning to work two more weeks before adjourning, but before it does so a more immediate deadline of December 7 lies ahead for continuing funding of a number of departments and agencies.

With legislators in recess for most of the time since late September, little has been done to address the need to enact funding for the rest of the current fiscal year—or to at least enact another stopgap measure until that can happen—in order to prevent a partial government shutdown.

Of the 12 regular appropriations bills that fund agencies, five were enacted in September, covering the majority of federal employees and the majority of federal spending. Employees of those agencies—including some of the largest including DoD, VA, HHS and Labor—are protected from any shutdown threat because full-year funding for them is in place.

A bill wrapping together four of the other measures—covering Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, HUD, the IRS, related agencies, and various science, financial regulatory and central management agencies—remains pending in a House-Senate conference.

The other three remaining spending bills—one on DHS, one on State and other foreign affairs agencies, and one on Commerce, Justice and science agencies—could also be tied together or could be addressed separately. Of those, the most controversial is the one for DHS, which is the vehicle for border security policy in general, and in particular border wall funding. President Trump has recently threatened a shutdown rather than accept a bill not providing for his requests, although he has signed such measures in the past.

If the DHS bill is considered separately, a budget lapse triggered by a standoff over border funding would apply only there. Further, DHS has a high concentration of employees in law enforcement and other security-related positions who would be kept on the job even in the event of a lapse—unpaid for the meantime but guaranteed to be paid later. In prior funding lapses, employees who were sent home on unpaid furloughs were later paid as if they had worked, although that has to be specified each time in the law restoring funding.