With a temporary extension of agency funding authority set to expire December 8, there is much uncertainty over agency budgets for the remainder of the current fiscal year, including employment levels and what agencies might do to reduce them if their budgets require it.
The Senate has passed none of the regular 12 appropriations bills, while the House has passed all of them in two bundles–but the final resolution almost certainly will take a different form. The House-passed measures, and those advancing in the committee level in the Senate, in general are more generous in agency funding levels than the White House proposed both in a preliminary budget and in a full budget plan that followed.
Enactment of higher funding levels would concerns about potential RIFs, as well as prospects that agencies would offer buyout and early retirement incentive payments to avoid layoffs as much as possible.
So far, only the EPA has offered a major round of buyouts and early retirements this year, although the Education Department also recently announced upcoming offers in its office of student aid; it has not announced how widespread those offers will be. The Interior Department has asked OPM for permission to make such offers but so far none have been announced there. The SSA made its annual early-out offer in August and small-scale offers have been made at several agencies due to routine changes such as office consolidations.
Meanwhile, many agencies have continued to restrict hiring even though the general government-wide hiring freeze was lifted in the spring, creating vacancies that could help manage budget restrictions without offers of incentives.
With only four working weeks left until temporary funding expires and so much yet to be decided, an alternative to a partial government shutdown would be another temporary extension. Congress is scheduled to finish its year only a week later, though, and an extension into early 2018 would require continuing to work on this year’s budget nearly up to the start of next year’s cycle.