The short-term threat of a government shutdown was averted this past Friday when Congress agreed on a plan to keep the federal government funded until mid-March. This does not mean U.S. policymakers are out of the woods yet.
While the plan to cut $4 billion in federal spending, will ensure federal agencies are adequately funded until March 14, the potential for a shutdown to occur still hasn’t been written off. Here are some information from the Congressional Research Service about what happens during a federal government shutdown and how it can affect you.
What can cause a government shutdown?
Federal agencies can shut down when they are unable to obtain the funds needed to fund their operations, excluding emergency circumstances. During such times, thousands of federal employees can be furloughed, meaning they are placed on a temporary leave of absence on a non-duty, non-pay status. The furlough excludes Congress members, uniformed military personnel, and federal employees that are rated “essential”. The latter group includes workers whose duties are vital to national security, public health and safety or crucial operations.
While furloughed employees are not paid, during shutdowns their salaries may be retroactively paid.
The Office of Management and Budget provides guidance to federal agencies on how to implement the shutdown, while the Office of Personnel Management assists such agencies on technical and personnel management issues like pay and benefits administration.
Has this ever happened before?
The most extreme case of federal shutdown in the United States occurred in 1995 under former President Bill Clinton’s administration. At that time, President Clinton and the House of Representatives, lead by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were unable to reach a consensus on the federal budget. The government was first shut down between November 14 through November 19, 1995 when a continuous funding resolution passed by Congress on Sept. 30 expired and President Clinton vetoed a second resolution.
When the second resolution expired on Dec. 15, the government was again unable to agree to a federal budget. This eventually lead to the second government shutdown for the fiscal year 1996 and the longest shut down recorded in U.S. history. That shutdown, which spanned between Dec. 16 to Jan. 6, ended when the White House and Congress were able to agree on resolutions to fund the government through Jan. 26.
President Clinton and Congress were finally able to agree on 1996 federal budget on April 26, 1996.
At the time, this shut down was recorded to have resulted in the furlough of 800,000 federal employees. The second shut down resulted in about 284,000 furloughs, while some 475,000 “essential” federal employees worked for no pay.
The budget was eventually completed in April of that year, but not before at total of fourteen resolutions, and two reconciliation bills were passed.
The second longest federal government shutdown occurred in 1979 between Sept. 30 and Oct. 18 of that year. Here’s a list of some of the longest federal shutdowns between 1977 and 1998.
|Fiscal Year||Dates of Gap||Length of Gap|
Should I be worried if the federal government shuts down?
If you work for the federal government then the simple answer to this question is ‘yes’. Speak with your employer and find out what how your department will be affected if the government does shut down.
If you don’t work for the federal government, then whether or not you should be worried will depend on how long the shutdown lasts. During the second shutdown in the fiscal year 1996, a number of federal agencies were forced to suspend their services, and just over 20% of federal contractors were affected. In addition, more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases were suspended, 368 national parks were closed and between 20,000 to 30,000 visa applications per day were left unprocessed.
Are you worried about the possibility of a federal shutdown? Let us know it the comments section.