What shutdown? Get to work.

11th-hour deal on 2011 funding avoids furloughs. Up next: the 2012 budget battle.

It’s Monday morning and rush-hour traffic is as bad as usual. For federal employees who left work Friday afternoon with the strong possibility of furloughs hanging over their heads, that’s good news.

Congressional leaders struck a deal on fiscal 2011 funding Friday night with about 90 minutes to spare, avoiding a shutdown of the federal government that had for much of the week seemed likely.

The agreement reached by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Barack Obama includes another short-term funding resolution until April 14, to allow time for the budget deal — which includes $38.5 billion in spending cuts — to fund the rest of the year to get through Congress.

For feds, the deal means an end, for now, to a couple torturous months of negotiations, warnings of shutdowns and reprieves from shutdowns supplied by a series of continuing resolutions. The short-term measure agreed to Friday night amounts to the fifth continuing resolution since the beginning of March. During that time, the threat of furloughs and lost paychecks for an estimated 800,000 federal workers hung in the balance.

The agreement cleared the way for employees to return to work, military service members and other essential personnel — who would have worked anyway — to be paid, national parks to remain open and Washington, D.C.’s trash to be picked up, among other things.

Government also avoided finding out how much its dependence on IT systems would affect a shutdown. Since the last government shutdown in December 1995, many back-office functions and public-facing online services have become automated and could have gone dark.

If the agreement is passed as expected, the government will be funded for the six months remaining in the fiscal year. What wasn’t clear as the deal was announced was where the $38.5 billion in cuts, which Obama called the largest annual spending cut in the country’s history, would be made, and what programs could be affected.

“Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful,” Obama said in announcing the deal. “Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.”

Next, the administration and Congress will turn their attention to the 2012 fiscal budget, which will likely turn into a battleground over more significant cuts, and whether to raise the nation's debt limit and long-term deficit reduction.

For now, though, feds can breathe a sigh of relief, even if they’re also sighing over being stuck in traffic. 

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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