A ‘disaster’ nears: Millions of federal workers’ paychecks would be on hold in a shutdown

More than 3.5 million federal employees and military personnel — many
in the Washington, D.C., area but also scattered across the states and
around the globe — are bracing for another partial government shutdown,
as U.S. House Republicans struggle to produce a short-term plan to fund
the government past the end of the month.

Most of the workers will be furloughed and go without paychecks in a
shutdown. Some will have to work without pay because of the nature of
their jobs, like members of the military, law enforcement officers, air
traffic controllers and TSA officers. Congress has in the past voted to
provide back pay to furloughed workers once a shutdown is over, though
there is no requirement to do so, it’s not a given and the timing is
uncertain.

Lawmakers would not be personally affected — members of Congress
would continue to get paid, as well as President Joe Biden and federal
judges, though the judicial branch could see its funding run low.

In the D.C. area, Virginia is home to an estimated 140,000 civilian
federal workers, who for some unknown period would go without pay and
would be forced to draw on savings or other assistance, according to a
federal employee database. Maryland has an estimated 139,000 civilian
employees.

The economic impact could be broad, because the funding lapse this
year would hit much harder than the 35-day partial government shutdown
that took place during the Trump administration and reduced GDP by
billions of dollars. This time, a partial shutdown would affect more
than 1.4 million uniformed members of the military and 1 million
additional civilian federal employees at the Pentagon, Department of
Health and Human Services and several other agencies, as well as
congressional staff.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, has repeatedly
warned his own members against forcing a funding lapse, saying it won’t
help the party to achieve its goals.

But that hasn’t stopped especially conservative Republicans from halting work
on full-year spending measures and opposing the short-term stopgap bill
that’s needed to give lawmakers more time to work out a deal.

American Federation of Government Employees National President
Everett Kelley said in a written statement that a “government shutdown
would be a disaster for the American people and the federal employees
who keep our government running.”

“Shutdowns hurt local communities across the country, deny Americans
access to government services, and do significant damage to the overall
economy,” Kelley said.

Congress, Kelley said, “needs to do its job and pass a continuing
resolution to keep the government funded at current levels while
continuing to negotiate a final budget. Nothing less is acceptable.”

AFGE represents more than 750,000 federal and D.C. government employees.

Here’s a look at why the federal government might shut down by Oct. 1, what agencies are impacted and what isn’t affected.

Why would the government have to shut down?

Congress is supposed to pass 12 government funding bills each year
before the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, but lawmakers haven’t
completed all of their bills on time since 1996.

Instead, every year the House and Senate pass at least one stopgap
spending bill, or continuing resolution. This keeps funding levels and
policy mostly flat for a few weeks or a couple of months, giving the
Appropriations committees more time to work out bipartisan bills and for
leaders to hold floor votes.

Congress sometimes has to pass several short-term funding bills
lasting for months, or even the entire fiscal year, if agreements on
new, full-year spending bills can’t be negotiated.

If Congress doesn’t approve all dozen full-year government funding
bills, or pass a short-term stopgap bill, by midnight on Sept. 30, then a
funding lapse begins and government departments begin implementing a
partial shutdown.

What happens during a shutdown? 

Federal civilian employees are broadly categorized as either
“excepted” or “non-excepted.” During a partial government shutdown,
excepted federal workers continue to work without pay while everyone
else is furloughed — which means they are on an enforced vacation and
their pay is on hold until the government resumes operations.

Employees that deal with “the safety of human life or the protection
of property” often work without pay until Congress approves some sort of
spending measure.

What federal departments and agencies are involved? 

Any federal department or agency without a full-year appropriations
bill would need to implement its shutdown plans if Congress doesn’t
approve a spending bill before Oct. 1.

Congress has yet to pass any of its dozen annual funding bills for
fiscal 2024, so all of the departments and agencies funded through the
annual appropriations process would be impacted.

That includes the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense,
Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing
and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation,
Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

Smaller federal agencies would also be affected, including the
Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, NASA and
the Smithsonian Institution, among dozens of others.

The entire legislative branch, including the U.S. House, U.S. Senate,
the Capitol Police, the Congressional Budget Office, Government
Accountability Office and the Library of Congress, among others, would
be partially shut down.

Each department and agency has its own guidance for implementing a partial government shutdown, which is posted on the Office of Management and Budget’s website.

What federal operations escape?

Spending on mandatory programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social
Security does not go through the annual appropriations process, so those
three programs are mostly exempt from the impact.

How many federal employees would be furloughed?

The federal government employed just under 2.2 million civilian employees earlier this year, according to its database. There are another 1.4 million members of the U.S. military, according to numbers
from the Office of Management and Budget. The Legislative Branch
employs more than 31,000 employees and the judicial branch has about
33,000 employees.

About 745,000 of the civilian employees work for the Department of
Defense, with another 449,000 at the Veterans Affairs Department. The
Department of Homeland Security — which houses Customs and Border
Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency — employs more than 216,000 federal
employees.

A state-by-state breakdown
of where civilian federal employees work shows that the nation’s
capital has the most federal employees, with 161,000 working in the
District of Columbia.

California has the second-highest population of civilian federal
employees with 142,000. Texas holds nearly 123,000. An estimated 32,500
Arizonans are federal civilian employees.

More than 636,000 federal employees are veterans.

Federal employees tend to get back pay after the shutdown ends, though that hasn’t extended to federal contractors.

Does anyone get paid during a partial government shutdown?

Yes. The president, members of Congress and judges.

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution “forbids the salary of the
President to be reduced while he or she is in office, thus effectively
guaranteeing the President of compensation regardless of any shutdown
action,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

Members of Congress would receive pay for several reasons, including
that they have a permanent appropriation for their salaries, a section
of the Constitution addressing lawmakers’ pay and the 27th Amendment,
according to the Congressional Research Service.

Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution says that U.S. lawmakers
“shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by
Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

And the 27th Amendment notes that “No law, varying the compensation
for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect,
until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Judges and the judiciary would “likely be able to continue to operate
for a limited time using funds derived from court filings and other
fees and from no-year appropriations,” according to a report from CRS.

How many funding lapses have there been?

Congress has failed to fund the government three times since 2000.

In 2013, there was a 16-day shutdown amid calls from several hardline
Republicans, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to defund the Affordable
Care Act, or Obamacare.

While none of the 12 full-year government funding bills were law when that shutdown began, it didn’t fully impact the Pentagon.

Just before the funding lapse began, Congress passed a bill to
provide pay for troops, Defense Department civilian employees and
certain contractors working for either the Defense Department or the
Homeland Security Department, according to the Congressional Research
Service.

There were two funding lapses during the Trump administration, one of
which was relatively short and one that lasted for 35 days.

The 35-day partial government shutdown began after five of the dozen
annual spending bills became law, reducing the number of federal
employees and operations impacted.

The Departments of Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human
Services, Labor and Veterans Affairs weren’t affected. Congress also
wasn’t impacted, having passed its own funding bill.

What is the economic impact of a partial government shutdown?

Federal employees were furloughed for a total of 6.6 million days
during the 2013 partial government shutdown, bringing the total “lost
productivity” to about $2 billion, according to an analysis from the White House budget office.

The 2019 partial government shutdown reduced real gross domestic
product by $3 billion during the fourth quarter of 2018 and by $8
billion during the first quarter of 2019, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

That shutdown, CBO said in its report, “dampened economic activity
mainly because of the loss of furloughed federal workers’ contribution
to GDP, the delay in federal spending on goods and services, and the
reduction in aggregate demand (which thereby dampened private-sector
activity).”

What’s the Biden administration saying?

The White House released a memo Wednesday rebuking House Republicans
for approaching the end of the fiscal year without a bipartisan plan to
fund the government.

The administration said it’s clear that “if extreme House Republicans
fail to ram through their radical agenda, they plan to take their
frustration out on the American people by forcing a government shutdown
that would undermine our economy and national security, create needless
uncertainty for families and businesses, and have damaging consequences
across the country.”

The memo says a funding lapse could affect dozens of federal
programs, including eliminating some spaces in Head Start, slowing down
new loans at the Small Business Administration and forcing the FDA to
“delay food safety inspections for a wide variety of products all across
the country.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, could
have to reduce the number of inspections, “denying workers a key
protection against safety risk, and Americans who are owed back pay for
their hard work would face delays due to the majority of Department of
Labor investigations being suspended.”

Air travel could also be impacted since TSA employees and air traffic
controllers would be working without pay, the White House memo says.

“These consequences are real and avoidable — but only if House
Republicans stop playing political games with peoples’ lives and
catering to the ideological demands of their most extreme, far-right
members,” the White House memo says. “It’s time for House Republicans to
abide by the bipartisan budget agreement that a majority of them voted
for, keep the government open, and address other urgent needs for the
American people.”