Who gets hit when the government shuts down?

More than 800,000 federal employees to be affected when funding runs out April 8

After weeks of impasses and last-minute reprieves, it appears a government shutdown will happen when funding expires April 8.

The Obama administration is making contingency plans, and has released some details about what to expect.

About 800,000 federal employees will be affected, said a senior administration official in a conference call for reporters April 6. That figure is based on what happened during the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s, the official said.

That rough estimate doesn’t account for changes since the previous shutdown though, such as the Veterans Affairs Department’s multi-year appropriations and the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

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The official said government activities not affected by the shutdown fall into two broad categories – those that receive funding from other sources, such as user fees or multi-year appropriations, and activities that are necessary for the safety of life or protection of property, such as the military and law enforcement.

But almost everything else the government does would come to a halt during a shutdown, the official said, specifically naming the processing of tax refunds for paper-filed returns, the approval of applications for small-business loan guarantees, and new home loan guarantees. In addition, national parks and the Smithsonian Institute would close.

According to guidance released by the Office of Personnel Management April 5, federal agencies also wouldn’t have the authority to pay their employees during a shutdown regardless of whether they are working as “excepted” or furloughed as “non-excepted.”

“Excepted employees will receive pay for hours worked when the Congress passes and the president signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution,” the guidance states. “Congress will also determine whether non-excepted employees will receive pay for the furlough period.”

The senior administration official explained during the call that those in the military would keep working during a shutdown but would not receive their paychecks until Congress appropriates funds for the remainder of fiscal 2011.

The civilian workforce at the Defense Department would have the same consideration as others in the federal government, meaning that they will be notified about their status as an excepted or non-excepted employee. However, the official said he expects, “a significant number of DOD civilian employees would be furloughed if the government shuts down.”

Similar to federal agencies across-the-board, the White House would also experience “significantly lower staffing levels” if Congress fails to reach a long-term agreement on this year’s budget, the official added.

Budget talks at the White House that took place April 5 with congressional leadership reportedly didn’t result in any compromise, but Obama is pledging a hard-line going forward.

“We can’t have a my-way or the high-way approach to this problem because if we start applying that approach, where I’ve got to get 110 percent of everything I want or else I’m going to shut down the government, we’re not going to get anything done this year,” he said at a news conference April 5.

Obama said that he is no longer willing to fund agencies through short-term extensions, adding that there is “no excuse” for lawmakers not to get a fiscal 2011 budget passed and prevent the government from shutting down.

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.


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