Government shutdown: Will chaos reign?

The shift to a skeletal crew of essential employees during the government shutdown of the 1990s “was, in many instances, disorganized and illogical at best, and oftentimes chaotic," the Congressional Research Service says. If the government shuts down in March, will it be any smoother?

The CRS also wrote that exposing the shutdown response plans to scrutiny would inform the budget policy debate about the potential effects of closing down the government.

Departments' plans for managing a government shutdown may not get the examination needed to prevent agencies from experiencing a disorganized downshift to a skeletal crew, according to a new report.

The Congressional Research Service reported that more expert analysis of the plans, which are required by the Office of Management and Budget, would encourage federal officials to make better arrangements.

“Scrutiny over agency shutdown plans may provide incentives for agencies to improve the quality of the plans, should it become necessary at some point for agencies to execute the plans,” the CRS wrote in the report released Feb. 18.

After a government shutdown in the 1990s, congressional hearings found that the shift to a skeletal crew of essential employees “was, in many instances, disorganized and illogical at best, and oftentimes chaotic,” the report states. CRS was quoting Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the then-chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee’s Civil Service Subcommittee, during a hearing about the shutdown and the implications for future instances.


Related story:

Government shutdown looms as lawmakers debate funding bill


The plans are required by OMB Circular A-11, and they must tell OMB officials how many days it would take to complete a shutdown. As for employees, the plan compares the number of an agency’s employees before launching the plan and how many would be necessary during the shutdown. Agencies must also note the number of employees needed to protect property and life, in terms of health care. Those employees would be exempt from the furlough. Employees may also be exempt if they are involved in the orderly suspension of agency operations, according to the CRS report.

Along with those select employees, the president and his appointees, members of Congress and other legislative workers are also exempted.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced a bill Feb. 18 that would keep the president and members of Congress from receiving paychecks when the government is closed.

Moran said his Government Shutdown Fairness Act (H.R. 819) would put top government officials on equal footing with federal employees.

“If we’re going to throw federal employees, including our staffs, out on the street, we should be right there with them,” Moran said. “In the event of a shutdown, members [of Congress] should be eating peanut butter and jelly like everyone else.”

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