Federal Relations

September 30, 2013

Shutdown Basics

Barring a last-minute burst of bipartisanship in Congress, the federal government will partially shut down at 12:01am Tuesday (October 1st) – the start of the new fiscal year. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has collected most current agency contingency plans here. Below is a quick breakdown of how a shutdown will likely affect select federal agencies and activities.

Education: A shutdown of the federal government will hit the US Department of Education hard. About 90 percent of the department’s 4,225 employees will be immediately furloughed, and most won’t come back until the funding crisis is resolved, even if the shutdown lasts longer than a week. But many schools and colleges won’t feel an immediate effect if the funding crisis is resolved quickly. Federal dollars will continue to flow to both K-12 and higher education. A longer shutdown, though, could lead to a big paperwork backlog and problems for schools, colleges, and students that receive federal funds.

  • Department staffing – ED will immediately furlough most of its employees, with the exception of a skeleton staff of appointees requiring Senate confirmation, their support staff, and the minimum number of employees necessary to oversee student loans and Pell Grants.
  • Formula funding to states – $22 billion already funded for FY2013 will continue flowing under Title I and II, IDEA, and career and technical education.
  • Student financial aid – While Pell Grants and student loans will continue to be paid out, as well as Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and federal work-study programs, but the Department staff that administer these programs will be furloughed.
  • Grants – Grant processing for Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods will lapse for a week. Other grant programs that don’t have any leftover money can’t incur new obligations until the funding crisis is resolved.

Energy and the Environment:  A majority of employees at all the energy and environmental agencies, will find themselves barred from doing work or checking their BlackBerries.

  • Environmental Protection Agency – EPA would keep 1,069 of its 16,205 total employees working during a shutdown, including those involved in law enforcement, employees whose funding comes from other sources, and others performing exempted activities. EPA employees would be needed in the event of a shutdown for a variety of reasons. Lab scientists may need to come in to ensure research isn’t ruined. Others may need to be available for emergency response.
  • Interior Department – At the Interior Department, 58,765 employees would be furloughed, out of 72,562 total (that’s about 81 percent). A relatively large number of Interior staffers stay on the clock thanks in part to the department’s law enforcement activities and responsibilities overseeing national parks. National parks will be closed to the public. Secretary Sally Jewell’s office would retain 548 of 2,855 employees.
  • US Department of Energy – Of DOE’s 13,814 employees, staying on the job would be 11 presidentially appointed officials and a couple thousand other employees. DOE has enough funds to operate ‘for a short time’ in the event of a shutdown, said a spokeswoman. Many DOE operations – like offices on science, nuclear energy, fossil fuels, renewable energy, and energy efficiency – would continue with only enough employees to count on one hand. Sub-agencies that would shut down completely include ARPA-E, the Loan Programs Office, the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs, and the Office of International Affairs.

US Department of Health and Human Services (NIH, CDC and others): 73 percent of NIH staff would be furloughed. Some of those that remain would continue providing in-patent and out-patient care for current patients of the NIH Clinical Center, though no new patients would be accepted. NIH staff would also maintain their animal stock, research infrastructure, and data. Most FDA monitoring programs and CDC outbreak programs, including its seasonal influenza work, would cease.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: NOAA would keep a total of 5,368 people working through a shutdown, almost 4,000 of whom are National Weather Service employees. Other workers would stay on board to maintain climate monitoring research and oversee environmental satellites.

National Science Foundation: Virtually all staff is to be furloughed, with those remaining responsible for the protection of life and property. NSF will be sending notices to awardees informing them that payments won’t be made during the disruption, but that research that doesn’t require federal employee intervention may proceed.

USDA Research, Education and Economics: Just about all staff at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service would be furloughed, though the Agricultural Research Service would retain several hundred staff to safeguard research animal populations, IT infrastructure, and other assets.

Transportation:  Of 55,468 positions at the US Department of Transportation, 18,481 will face furloughs, or about one in three workers.

  • Air Traffic Controllers – Stay on the job. The safety reasons here are obvious. This also applies to inspectors and on-call accident investigators. But another 15,514 FAA employees will face furloughs.
  • Transit and Rail Employees – Nearly every Federal Transit Administration employee faces a furlough, with those working on Hurricane Sandy recovery serving as a notable exception. At the Federal Railroad Administration, about half of employees work on safety issues and are protected.
  • Researchers – Employees at DOT’s two fee-supported research centers, the Transportation Safety Institute in Oklahoma City and the Volpe Institute in Cambridge, MA, will dodge furloughs. Twenty-five other RITA employees will not be as lucky.
  • Office of the Secretary – Of the 730 employees who work under Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, 382 will face furloughs, including the entirety of the civil rights division and most public and governmental affairs employees.

Sources: CQ, Politico