Who works, who doesn't in government shutdown
April 7, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security experts will continue monitoring the atmosphere for signs of a biological attack, the St. Lawrence Seaway will keep operating and lab animals at the Food and Drug Administration will continue to get fed. But mine safety officials won't conduct inspections, it might be hard to get someone on the phone at the Social Security Administration, and good luck getting your passport renewed.
As the Obama administration braces for a government shutdown, agency-by-agency assessments of who stays on the job and who goes home testify both to the federal bureaucracy's vast expanse and to the likely uneven effects of a closure that could idle an estimated 800,000 workers.
Work deemed vital to life or protection of property would go on, and so would work that is paid for with money from a source other than the annual congressional appropriation that is at the heart of the bitter struggle between House Republicans and the White House and its congresssional Democratic allies.
That means that 80 percent of the 230,000 employees at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration would remain at their posts.
So would all 128 employees of the tiny St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., an agency within the Department of Transportation that operates the waterway between Montreal and Lake Erie and has a reserve fund that would allow it to keep operating.
The Seaway agency is one of several bureaucracies within the 55,000-employee transportation agency insulated from furloughs.
Employees of the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would come to work because their funding comes from the gasoline tax-financed Highway Trust Fund, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.
The air safety component of the Federal Aviation Administration also would remain on the job, though not its aircraft certification and technology research branches.
Only safety-related work would continue at DOT's Federal Railroad Administration, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and Maritime Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration would shut down entirely, the spokeswoman said.
The Health and Human Services Department plans to furlough approximately 48,000 of its 76,000 employees if the government shuts down, according to an administration spokesman.
HHS's National Institutes of Health would stop accepting new patients into its facilities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would scale back monitoring outbreaks of disease nationwide.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would turn off its toll free help line for Medicare beneficiaries.
But because the mammoth Medicare program is not funded with appropriated funds, it will continue to pay hospitals, doctors and other providers.
And states, which administer the Medicaid program for the poor, should have enough federal funding to last until June, according to the administration.
At the Food and Drug Administration, limited safety inspections of food, drug and medical device production facilities would continue, as would criminal investigations.
Employees with ongoing scientific experiments and those in charge of feeding the agency's lab animals would stay on duty.
The entire staff of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products also would stay on the job because its budget comes from payments from tobacco companies and not a congressional appropriation.
The FDA would continue to monitor food imports deemed high risk including those coming from Japan, and some furloughed staff would be subject to recall in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.
But evaluation of applications for new drugs and medical devices would cease, as would oversight of clinical trials and reviews of product labels.
At the Department of Education, current plans call for 4,150 of the department's 4,465 employees - more than 90 percent_to go home.
Jeff Zients, chief performance officer at the Office of Management and Budget, said that government websites and online services would be shut down or have limited functionality and customer service would be spotty across a range of offices, including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service - though Social Security payments will continue to be paid to people currently receiving benefits. The Interior Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration would not conduct regular safety inspections, he said.
"If there is a shutdown, it would have very real effects on the services American people rely on, as well as on the economy as a whole," Zients said.
Among services slated for suspension is a Homeland Security program called E-Verify that employers use to check a worker's immigration status. Many federal contractors are required to use E-Verify when hiring new employees, and a government shutdown could make it difficult for contracting companies to fill positions.
At the State Department, only emergency applications for passports and visas will be processed. Department officials said they expect some delay, even in those, since many employees will not be working.
Consular services for Americans overseas will still be available, but limited.
Department officials recommend that people seeking passports or visas check the State Department website - state.gov - for details on the availability of services once the shutdown begins.
A shutdown of a week or less shouldn't affect the planned April 29 flight of space shuttle Endeavour, according to a NASA spokesman.
But the space agency will need to furlough as many as 18,500 of its 19,000 civil service employees. Employees staying on the job would include agency heads or workers assigned to tasks, such as mission control, that are directly responsible for oversight of astronauts aboard the International Space Station or ongoing science missions.
In a message to all Defense Department employees Thursday, Deputy Secretary William J. Lynn III said, even with a government shutdown, all active duty military personnel would report to work and that military operations would continue, including in Afghanistan, Iraq and the air campaign in Libya. U.S. military assistance to Japan's earthquake relief would also continue, he said.
"Operations and activities that are essential to safety, protection of human life, and protection of our national security, are excepted from shutting down," Lynn said.
Civilian employees deemed to be in essential functions would also continue to work, though others would be furloughed. There are roughly 700,000 civilian DOD employees and 1.1 million active duty military personnel. A Pentagon spokesman said he could not provide an estimate for how many DOD civilian would stay on the job.
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Military retirement benefits would continue because they are not paid from appropriated funds, he said.
Much of the intelligence community is part of the military, and therefore is subject to the same national security exemption that applies to the defense department. The people listening to phone calls and monitoring spy satellites at the National Security Agency, for example, are part of the military and would continue working.
At the CIA, a civilian agency, officials expected to operate with a smaller staff. Counterterrorism operations, however, would continue, officials said.
The federal courts say it will be business as usual next week, no matter what happens in Congress.
"The public would not likely see any difference at the courts for a two-week period" following a shutdown, said Richard Carelli, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
That is because the courts can use money from fees charged to litigants to keep operating temporarily without a federal appropriation, Carelli said, adding, "It becomes problematic if the shutdown were to last more than two weeks."
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In 1995, when federal agencies shut down, the Supreme Court continued its operations without an interruption.
While President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans joust for political advantage in the shutdown negotiations, Scott Bailey, a paralegal specialist in the Office of the Clerk of Court at the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, has simpler goals. Bailey said he hoped a shutdown could be averted because he is preparing to buy a new home in Virginia. "I need the paycheck," he said.
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