Congressional offices make decisions on who is essential

District offices may close first, although constituents will feel direct effect of government shutdown

Congressional offices largely are making their own decisions about which members of their staffs are essential employees who should not be furloughed in case of a government shutdown, according to people familiar with office operations and official reports.

District or state office staff members are likely first to be furloughed at many offices, according to a person familiar with operations. Those employees work closest with constituents, causing more problems for members of Congress as voters would feel firsthand the effects of a stalemate in Washington.

A report from the House Administration Committee states that essential staff members are those who directly support lawmakers in performing their constitutional duties. Such duties include a broad range of work, including aiding the member of Congress on legislative and committee work.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said today on Fox News that he will not furlough all of his employees because his House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is key to keeping a check on federal agencies.


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“The government oversight committee will be looking and doing oversight over whether the government is complying with the various essential services and so on," Issa said. "That will be based on people. I may have fifty people in one day and a different ten or fifteen the next day. They’ll be furloughed day-to-day based on the job they need to do. I think that’s the only fair way to look at it. I’m only going to have the people necessary to do the jobs that must be done during the shutdown."

The U.S. Capitol would go silent during a government shutdown, leaving elevators with no attendees and kitchens empty. Even the Capitol Visitors Center and Capitol tours would be closed in the event of a shutdown.

Nevertheless, a skeleton crew of IT workers would continue to work due to concerns about security and protection from hackers, The Hill newspaper reports.

The government will continue particular services, including jobs related to health care services and those that protect government property.

A shutdown could affect public opinion of both Congress and the president, as many services are stopped.

In the past, the White House often came off looking better in these circumstances, as the president waits for the House and Senate to battle out their differences, according to experts in shutdowns and who have lived through several of them.

The president can generate a lot of publicity when he makes the call to send federal employees home.

“And the first person who will get that call will be the director of the National Parks Service," said John Cooney, who was the general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget during the 1995-1996 government shutdown. "The White House really wants the Washington Monument and everything else shut down."

In 1995, the administration had a tough debate about closing the Smithsonian museums because they operate with both federal money and private donations. Museum officials wanted to stay open by paying with donations, but the White House wanted it closed.

The president can turn public opinion his way by showing how ordinary people, such as schoolchildren visiting Washington, D.C., are affected by budget battles in Congress, Cooney said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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