The U.S. federal government is mired in political budget wranglings that may result in another government shutdown. If this seems all-too familiar, that’d be the painful memories of the last government shutdown in 2013.
But, the federal government can’t stop completely. And, even though the possible government shutdown is just a couple of days away, it’s far from certain that it will even happen.
Let’s look at what’s happening and what you need to know about the possible government shutdown:
1. We’ll know if there will be a government shutdown by Wednesday, September 30, midnight
To avoid a government shutdown, Congress needs to pass a stopgap “continuing resolution” before the fiscal year ends on Wednesday, September 30 at midnight ET. This continuing resolution is needed because Congress has not passed the twelve appropriation bills for this fiscal year.
This continuing resolution is a short-term spending bill that would allow the government to temporarily continue funding agency operations. Republican and Democrat leadership in both the Senate and House have said they support keeping the government open. The Tea Party, not so much.
If passed by September 30 deadline, the stopgap bill would keep government open for a few more months, through December 11.
2. No one knows if the government shutdown will happen
The odds of a government shutdown change by the hour. Right now, it looks like a government shutdown may be avoided—for now.
Just last week, things looked dismal. Senate Democrats used a filibuster to block a version of the stopgap bill that would also have ended federal funding for Planned Parenthood (this post won’t discuss that mess). At that point, the process seemed irreparably mired in politics.
Then, on Monday, September 28, the Senate passed a new bipartisan version of the bill that includes Planned Parenthood funding, introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to avoid a government shutdown. Passed with a majority vote of 77-19, the Sentate bill is filibuster proof. The House votes next and must do so by Wednesday’s deadline to avert a government shutdown.
Some analysts have speculated that House Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation has also reduced the chance of the shutdown. Over the weekend Boehner said that he doesn’t “want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” promising there won’t be a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding.
Several federal employee unions are also putting the pressure on politicians, telling their members to “plead” with their Congressional representatives to pass the funding bill.
3. Many agencies already have government shutdown contingency plans
The Office of Management and Budget has posted the available contingency plans for federal agencies.
These are very useful documents for both federal employees and the American people. The contingency plans explain how each agency will operate during the government shutdown. Each includes information on which agency activities and services will continue during the shutdown, what types of employees will be furloughed (given a temporary leave of absence), what’s expected of both furloughed employees and those not furloughed, and how staff and the public will be notified about changes to agency operations.
During a government shutdown, a limited amount of essential (this is actually called “excepted,” but that term makes little sense to non-wonks) operations continue, including national security and services that protect the safety of life and property. People who support these essential operations keep working. Everyone else—including agency employees and federal contractors—stays home, and may or may not get paid. Paychecks for essential federal employees can be delayed.
4. Your office needs to plan for this government shutdown
Until Congress finalizes the stopgap bill, your agency needs to keep planning for a government shutdown.
While many who work at your office will have experienced the 2013 government shutdown, you’ve likely hired plenty of new people. They’ll need guidance on how the shutdown will affect their jobs, pay, and benefits.
Even staff who persevered through the previous shutdown will need reminders about what to expect. There’s also a lot your staff learned during the last shutdown that can improve how you handle things this time around. These experienced staff can also be your ambassadors, helping others understand the impact of a shutdown.
Schedule an in-person all staff meeting where everyone can get a thorough, honest explanation. Pull together a list of frequently asked questions that people can refer to later. Allow plenty of time during the meeting to answer questions—there will be many. Be ready to have one-on-one follow up talks with anyone who needs extra individual support. This may include people who are worried about their families, finances, benefits, workload, or job security, and the potential impact on ongoing projects and customer service.
5. Your agency needs to plan for ANY government shutdown
If Congress passes the continuing resolution, on October 1, federal government operations could be perfectly normal. Federal employees may be hard at work, serving the American public with only the usual challenges that come with the job.
But, the continuing resolution is merely a temporary measure. If it passes, agencies would only be funded for the next couple of months. Come December, we’ll very likely face another government shutdown threat. By then, Republicans and Democrats will be in a deeper budget battle over domestic program funding and defense spending, the Planned Parenthood debate will doubtless be back, and the House will be led by a brand new, probably less experienced Speaker.
Whatever government shutdown plans you make now may well come in handy. Sooner or later, you’ll be glad you were prepared.
What plans have you discussed at your agency office? Share your tips and insight in the comments to help other workers affected by the possible government shutdown.