For the third time this year, federal employees are once again caught in the political crosshairs of a government shutdown.
But the most recent partial shutdown that began Dec. 22 feels very different from the brief ones that took place in January and February. For starters, this one is shaping up to be much longer. In a Dec. 21 tweet, President Trump vowed that if the Democrats voted against a spending bill that included border wall funding, “there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time.” (For more on how we got to this point, read this.)
Also different this time around is that the shutdown does not apply to the entire federal government. Government agencies that have already received appropriations remain open, but about 25 percent of agencies are now shut down and are operating with a skeleton crew. Those agencies include the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Treasury, State, and Homeland Security departments, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the IRS, the federal judiciary, and other related government programs.
Roughly 800,000 federal employees are impacted by the shutdown, which includes 380,000 who are furloughed and 420,000 who are working without pay, according to House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD).
A bipartisan group of House and Senate legislators re-introduced a bill on Jan. 3 that would guarantee retroactive pay for federal employees during the government shutdown. The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, brought before the Senate by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) and a bipartisan group of 28 additional senators, would ensure back pay for excepted and furloughed federal employees during this shutdown and future ones.
“The partial government shutdown represents a failure to govern and harms not only those who need to interact with the closed agencies, but also hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families,” Collins said in a statement.
During the 115th Congress, lawmakers introduced a similar bill, the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act. But that bill never made it out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which meant lawmakers had to take that measure up again in the new Congress in order for feds to get paid.
With so much uncertainty swirling during this shutdown, we’ve provided a few resources below to help keep government employees informed.
1. OPM.gov (Operating Status)
Check here to see the operating status of the federal government. As long as the federal government is shut down, you’ll see this notice: “Due to a lapse in appropriations, federal government operations vary by agency. Employees should refer to their home agency for guidance on reporting for duty.” As of Dec. 26, the Office of Personnel Management said social media channels may not be monitored or updated because of the shutdown, but so far the agency has shared steady updates. In addition to OPM, make sure to check your agency’s website and social accounts for any new updates.
This document contains answers to general questions about payment for employees who had to work during the shutdown, managing information technology resources during a shutdown and more. Other OPM resources include Pay and Leave Furlough Guidance. To supplement this guidance, the White House also has special instructions for processing payroll and details on how employee pay is affected and how to address scheduled time off during a shutdown.
You can also check out agencies’ shutdown contingency plans here.
OPM has a sample letter on its website for employees who are in a tight spot financially because of the shutdown and need to discuss payment arrangements with their creditors. Agencies such as DOT also offer similar templated letters for employees to use. But keep in mind that “this letter does not guarantee the creditor will extend the payment schedule but many creditors have indicated they will work with Federal employees who are affected by the shutdown.”
This report from the Congressional Research Service has a lot of historical and current information about shutdowns in the federal government. There’s a section in there on employee pay after a shutdown, how shutdowns affect government programs and more.
AFSA compiled a collection of helpful resources for its members. There are also general resources for all employees affected by the furlough, including an extensive FAQ and shutdown contingency plans for foreign affairs agencies.
PSC’s guidance for contractors includes a recording and slides from its shutdown preparation webinar, a checklist of contractor actions during a government shutdown, and talking points on the effects of government shutdowns on companies, employees and the government programs they support.
The Coalition for Government Procurement has a list of resources to help contractors navigate the government shutdown, including best practices to assist in managing contract and cost risks associated with a shutdown.
This by no means is an exhaustive list. Please add any helpful resources in the comment section below.
You can find all of GovLoop’s shutdown coverage here.