Agency Management

Shutdown planning is the new normal

diagram of work team

If the House and Senate fail to agree on a continuing resolution, a shutdown on Oct. 1 would likely affect between 800,000 and 1.2 million civilian federal workers out of about 2 million. Despite fears of a total government shutdown, according to plans filed with the Office of Management and Budget in 2011 --when a funding gap last loomed -- many government functions would continue.

It's not clear what the cost of a shutdown would be. OMB has estimated that the two shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 cost $1.4 billion. However, most of that cost was attributed to the award of back pay to furloughed employees. Leaders of federal employee unions think it is unlikely that in the current climate of furloughs and sequestration, that Congress would agree to a back-pay package for feds sent home during a shutdown.

It's going to be cheaper to spread the word about a shutdown, at least according to the plan put out by the Office of Personnel Management. "Increased use of technology has improved government operations, allowing us to notify employees of furloughs and resumption of operations more quickly and at lower cost," OPM said in its guidance. Agency officials expect employees to keep an eye on and media sources to get news of a spending deal.

Related Coverage

See all of FCW's shutdown stories

Back when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich were at loggerheads over a balanced budget, about 800,000 federal workers were furloughed in two separate partial shutdowns. The Department of Defense and the Food and Drug Administration continued to operate normally because they were already funded by a separate appropriations bill.

The political dynamic now is different in more than one respect. While the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns are remembered as a conflict between Clinton and Gingrich, the Republicans controlled both the House and Senate at the time, giving the GOP additional leverage. Gingrich also maintained a tighter control of his majority in the House, which he led to victory in the wave election of 1994, than Speaker John Boehner now wields.

Brief shutdowns are not uncommon historically. A Congressional Research Services report noted that six took place between fiscal 1977 to fiscal 1980, the longest lasting 17 days. A series of nine shorter shutdowns occurred from fiscal 1987 to fiscal year 1995, the longest lasting three days.

When a shutdown loomed in 2011, OMB revised its guidance on planning for a suspension in operations. The OMB now requires detailed contingency plans to be updated every four years. Now plans must include numbers of positions to be excepted from furloughs. Employees can be excepted because they are paid out of user fees or a revolving fund, or some resource other than an annual appropriation, because their duties are expressly required or are "necessarily implied" under law, they are necessary to protect life and property, or they are "necessary to the discharge of the president's constitutional duties and powers."

The OMB update required agencies to begin filing their detailed, up-to-date shutdown plans by Aug. 1, 2014. Agencies are now updating their guidances to employees via email this week.

A few of these plans are already up.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development expects to operate with 349 out of 8,709 employees. Their CIO office of 244 will be staffed by a skeleton crew of 13. The National Parks Service intends to close all parks and furlough 21,379 of its 24,645 employees. Most of those who remain on the job hold law enforcement posts. Most of the Justice Department's 114,486 employees are excepted from furlough under the protection of life and property provision, with more than 96,000 set to remain on the job. The Environmental Protection Agency plans on keeping about 1,000 of its 16,000 workers active in the event of a shutdown. The Social Security Administration will keep 44,337 of its 62,343 employees at work if a shutdown takes place. About 300 of the nearly 3,200 employees in the CIO office will stick around to make sure the IT that processes Social Security claims and cuts the checks remains humming.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Mon, Sep 30, 2013

They should just kick everyone out including our Congress man and Senators, with no pay, lets start the goverment again as a democracy, instead of a bunch of greedy self rightous people. Even the Tea party has there own agenda. Everyone pays for there 401 pay, no life pensions just cause you served in Congress, Senators, Judges or Presidents. You give up our secrets then you get Judged just like Snowden and all those other that comitted treason against the United States of America,,,,,there is no United Congess or Senators in that saying. Let get it staightened out. Let the "People vote you in and when you get raises" just let the rest of us. So if shutdown means cleaning up our mess then so be it, tired of all the whoop la la, media publicity and nothing getting done.

Mon, Sep 30, 2013 Gov Emp101

The article referred to the cost of the 1995-1996 shutdown being 1.4 billion of which it said that 'most' was back pay. Did anyone record the cost of just the shutdown planning, actions and subsequent restart? How about the fact that Gov agencies must now continually have and update plans because the threat of a shutdown has become common fodder in politics? The article stated that the OMB requirement of updated contingency plans every 4 years has only been in affect since 2011. I know that beside the 4-year updates, there is still additional planning and actions that are specific to a shutdown due to timing of the shutdown and review of the release of OMB guidance also specific to the shutdown. Person-Hours are expended every time that this threat occurs whether or not the shutdown happens.

Sun, Sep 29, 2013

Yay, a vacation is all I see. And LOL, these cowards are too scared not to pay us later. I'm loving it!

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