Washington prepares for government shutdown

Posted Feb. 25 at 2:26 p.m.

Washington has started getting ready for a possible government shutdown.

Federal agencies are working on plans for shutting down and deciding how many workers they need to perform essential operations.

Congress has one week — until the end of March 4 — to pass another short-term bill to fund federal agencies. If it fails, agencies are legally obligated to perform only essential activities necessary to protect life and property.

The government would keep essential services — like air traffic control and the national security apparatus — in full operating mode.

Each agency has its own shutdown plan. To prepare for next week, the agencies are updating their plans and submitting them to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

Obama administration officials have declined to release those plans, which include details including how many employees are needed to perform essential functions, and how long it will take each agency to complete a shutdown.

The budget office maintains the agencies are prepared.

“OMB is prepared for any contingency as a matter of course — and so are all the agencies,” Kenneth Baer, OMB communications director, said this week in a statement. “In fact, since 1980, all agencies have had to have a plan in case of a government shutdown, and they routinely update them.”

Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have said they want to avoid a shutdown.

But OMB is watching Congress. According to the guidance distributed to other federal agencies, OMB says it will monitor the status of congressional actions and notify agencies if shutdown plans are to be implemented.

The last time the federal government went dark was during the Clinton administration: five days in November 1995 and another 21 ending in January 1996.

At the time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the Government Accountability Office to prepare a report that detailed how many workers would be kept on the job.

Relying on each agency’s shutdown plan, the GAO found that some agencies, such as NASA, would furlough more than 90 percent of its employees. Meanwhile, the Justice Department would retain 75 percent of its staff.

During the Clinton-era shutdown, new Social Security claims weren’t being processed because the Social Security Administration furloughed 61,415 employees. As the shutdown wore on, the agency recalled workers to start processing new claims.

In that shutdown, the government closed 368 National Park Service sites, along with national museums and monuments, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

In addition, 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed, and toxic waste cleanup work at 609 sites stopped, according to the same report. The National Institutes of Health stopped accepting new clinical research patients, and services for veterans, including health care, were curtailed.

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One comment:

  1. James Wittig Feb. 26 at 5:07 pm

    It’s about time we rein in the excessive federal spending!