Last Updated:October 21 @ 08:28 am

Government shutdown? Not exactly

By USA Today

(File Photo)

If Congress doesn't pass a new spending bill in the next week, the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1.

That is, 41% of it will.

An estimated 59% of non-defense federal employees would be exempt from the shutdown and would go to work as usual, according to a USA TODAY analysis of shutdown contingency plans filed with the Office of Management and Budget.

Among them: political appointees, law enforcement, most overseas foreign service officers and anyone else deemed necessary for health or safety of people or property.

That last category can account for a broad cross-section of federal employees, because positions that support a key function -- such as information technology, security or even legal help -- are also protected. Even a receptionist responsible for picking up sensitive mail deliveries could be considered essential and exempted from furlough.

Maintaining an agency website usually isn't a necessary function, although the Office of Management and Budget said this month that the IRS website may be necessary "to allow for tax filings and tax collection." That's one key difference from the last government shutdown in 1996, when agencies were less reliant on the Web.

"Where those lines are drawn can change from time to time," said Ray Natter, a former deputy chief counsel of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And the two government agencies responsible for interpreting the law on who's essential and who's not -- the Office of Legal Counsel and the Comptroller General -- often give inconsistent advice, he said.

Agencies that don't operate on an annual appropriation from Congress also will continue to operate normally. That includes the Postal Service, the Patent and Trademark Office and the Federal Highway Administration. A Census Bureau statistician working on a project in Bangladesh is paid outside of the budget and could continue to work.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service would continue to issue weather forecasts because they're necessary for aviation safety. But ocean and atmospheric scientists who don't produce daily forecasts would also continue to work in order to maintain "crucial long-term historical climate records," according to the Department of Commerce's plan.

At the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the commissioners would continue to work because they're appointed by the president. But the commission's contingency plan also calls for some of the agency's lawyers to go to work, so they can provide "timely and accurate legal advice" to the commissioners about what they can and can't do during a shutdown.

About 65% of Washington-based State Department employees -- and 10% of overseas-based employees -- would be furloughed. Passport offices would be closed, but any State Department official deemed necessary for the president to carry out his treaty-making responsibilities under the Constitution would come to work. And foreign nationals employed by the State Department may be subject to their country's labor laws, which may not allow an unpaid furlough.

For most federal agencies, almost all employees would work at least a half-day after a shutdown to lock their filing cabinets, update their voicemail and fill out time cards. When the shutdown is over, agencies might take a half-day to ramp back up before opening their doors to the public.

USA TODAY looked at the most recent contingency plans for 339 federal departments, agencies and offices, all filed in 2011 when the government last faced the possibility of a shutdown. The analysis does not include the District of Columbia and many smaller agencies that did not submit a report or those that did not provide personnel figures in their reports.

Also not included: the Department of Defense. "While military personnel would continue in a normal duty status, a large number of our civilian employees would be temporarily furloughed," Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said in a memo to employees Monday. Just how many would be furloughed is unclear; Carter said the department is still updating its contingency plan.

At the White House, 365 staffers would report to work and 1,166 would be furloughed during a shutdown.

Natter noted that the Anti-Deficiency Act, the 129-year-old law that forces the government to shut down without an appropriation from Congress, also makes it illegal for furloughed workers to volunteer -- even though many end up getting paid whether they work for not. "It really ought to be rewritten to be more relevant for the 21st century," he said.

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9 Comments

  1. phunyfarmComment by phunyfarm
    September 24, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    Why not call it a “cut back” – that’s all this really is.
    I guess shutdown sounds more ominous. That’s how this government rolls.
    Yep, updates should be done to make the shutdown more effective. All the Czars, aids, handlers, representatives, everything that is not ABSOLUTELY necessary should simply be shut down in the truest sense of the word.
    Needs to happen, we haven’t had a budget in so long it seems the government has no need of one. They don’t adhere to any type of spending control anyway. Unless it is geared toward us, meaning making us give them more.
    Spending control + government = oxymoron

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    • jmortensenComment by jmortensen
      September 24, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

      WE will probably discover that the part of “Government” that shuts down isn’t necessary any way .. good way to downsize this Bloated Government

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    • elderalComment by elderal
      September 26, 2013 @ 11:58 am

      I have tried and failed to find a downside to a government shutdown. Bureaucrats will be off their job of over-regulating every detail of our lives resulting in an old idea often spoken of but rarely experienced these days: FREEDOM. With no expenses being paid and taxes continuing to roll in, the budget could eventually become balanced; the long term result would be the elimination of the national debt!

      Those now dependent on a government handout would have to actually GET A JOB and those who truly cannot work would be better served by the churches and other charities doing for FREE what the government now spends billions to provide.

      Yes, PLEASE, shut down the government and LEAVE it shut down. Your children and grandchildren will thank you for having the gumption to do the right (correct and conservative) thing once and for all. THIS is a “change that I can believe in!”

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  2. geoinsdComment by geoinsd
    September 24, 2013 @ 11:16 am

    This article supports my opinion that we should let the government shut down. The essential functions will continue. The people will find out there are many things that won’t be missed and therefore can be cut.

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  3. shafawnComment by shafawn
    September 24, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    I’m all for shutting down the executive branch of the government.
    The world will keep spinning without Obama’s economy crushing, racist, negative, pro Muslim, anti-Christian, anti-Israeli influence.

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  4. boilervetteComment by boilervette
    September 24, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    What politicians (Dems & Reps) really fear about a “Government Shutdown” is that it might go on for a few months and people will begin to realize that they are getting along just fine without the Departments of Labor, Commerce, etc, EPA, CPA, and the 1,500 other federal agencies! Then it will be plainly evident where to cut the size and budget of the federal government!

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    • shafawnComment by shafawn
      September 24, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

      See… exactly
      And they wouldn’t dare let that happen

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  5. mysticComment by mystic
    September 24, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    Great post by all….and I heartily agree with your assessment of the supposed ‘shut down’ of the government looming ahead.

    All ‘essential’ spending has already been approved by congress prior to their August recess. (Wish I had five weeks paid vacation! gesh!) What is left is the non discretionary spending, as is noted in the article. It’s the bloated salaried workers of each dept that are categorized differently so that the actual number of federal workers verses the actual number of all workers for any of these given agencies is revealed to us.
    …And why, you may ask, does government offices run this way? Well, it’s all in the budgetary numbers. It’s an accounting game that Washington Elite have played for decades. Yes, those same Washington Elite, think ‘we the people’ are too dumb to understand line budgetary items or re-organizing money pots that have one label for one activity and using those funds wherever they wish. Gee, kinda like when the dems robbed money from the Medicare pension fund and left IOU’s and accounting footnotes so the numbers still looked good on paper…until that is, this president began explaining exactly what they (now known as evil republicans) had done in order to push ACA/Affordable Care Act of 2009′ (here by known as ObamaCare).

    So sit back and watch the Laural and Hardy show that is going on. Pop the corn and grab a soda and laugh yourself silly as these politicians turn into bad comedian/soap star actors, desperately trying to sell you that what they did isn’t what they are doing. It would be funny if it weren’t so damn sad!

    ~M

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  6. JDZComment by JDZ
    September 24, 2013 @ 7:16 pm

    I really do not trust our government to handle anything these days in a cost effective and rational manner as the government has grown so large and complex and full of itself as it sees itself as the center of the universe. It has duplication everywhere and many departments with roles and responsibilities that have huge overlaps and are ripe for consolidation and streamlining, but these government entities are not going to voluntarily give up their rice bowls. Government never voluntarily cuts anything and has to be forced to cut back.

    So, a government “shutdown” in the purest sense never really happens because it cannot be totally shutdown by law, however, non-essential services and activities can be stopped for some defined period of time. For example, Congress could be shutdown for months and we would never know it, as could most of the Executive Branch.

    Personally, a shutdown of the government could be good for the country.

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