Minggu, 10 April 2011

Government Shutdown: What it means for Obama

As negotiations continue between President Obama and congressional leaders at the White House in hopes of a last-minute deal, federal employees will begin learning more Thursday about their work status and agencies will begin briefing contractors, federal worker union leaders, and state and local governments about the potential impact of a shutdown, Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients said.

“We’re taking these steps because responsible management demands it,” Zients said Thursday.
Zients rattled off a list of government services expected to cease, including Smithsonian museums and national parks, and the processing of some IRS tax refunds and small business loans. But air traffic control duties, the U.S. Postal Service, FEMA disaster efforts and the National Weather Service would continue, Zients said.

Federal employees

In the event of a shutdown, the federal government does not actually stop functioning entirely: activities and employees deemed "excepted" (in 1995, the terminology used was "essential") to keeping the nation safe and operational continue to perform. Congress, along with President Obama, presidential appointees and specific judicial employees, are deemed "excepted" and not subject to furlough. Even those excepted federal employees, however, do not get paid until after the government resumes operations.
According to a senior administration official who spoke to reporters in a Wednesday conference call, about 800,000 employees were affected by the shutdown in the government shutdown of 1995 - and a similar number of workers would likely be impacted were the government to close this week.
So how do you know who keeps working and who goes home?
Employers decide who is "excepted" and who gets furloughed - and the latter characterization could fall to any number of the 1.9 million civilian government employees. Plus, according to the Washington Post, "any workers scheduled to take paid leave would not be able to, and some would be eligible for unemployment benefits if a shutdown continued for more than a few days.
Whether or not the furloughed staffers would get paid remains to be seen: they'd only receive back pay if Congress later passed a provision approving it - something that could take months and which may or may not happen.
Additionally, a recent report from Roll Call indicates that some Congress members plan to limit their furloughs and keep their entire staffs at work.

Nationwide, about 800,000 federal employees and hundreds of thousands of contractors could be furloughed, some deprived of their BlackBerrys and other devices, according to senior Obama administration officials familiar with the plans.
Any shutdown of the federal government, the chief industry of Washington, would also affect tourists, the Mall and its museums, and thousands of D.C. residents who would lose city services.
Ford’s Theatre, a national historic site, would be closed to the public and its programming canceled. The Washington Monument would also be closed.
Many government Web sites would stop updating information. But current Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security beneficiaries would continue to receive payments.

The Military

  • Uniformed military personnel would continue to serve, but they would not get paid for their work until the government reopened. (Troops would get one week, not two weeks, pay in their next check, as the shutdown would go into effect in the middle of a pay cycle.) And a number of Pentagon civilians, State Department officials and USAID staff would likely be furloughed.
  • Veterans services will largely go uninterrupted, as the Veterans Administration receives its yearly appropriation in advance and thus has the money to fund services for the rest of the year.

    For the general Public: Unless you are one of 4.4 million people who work for the federal government, you probably won't notice the shutdown at first, especially since many federal offices are closed on the weekend anyway. Employees considered essential — including soldiers, security personnel and intelligence workers — will remain on the job, but operations like the Smithsonian will close. As the New York Times points out, "the National Zoo will close but the lions will get fed." Federal courts will stay open for at least a couple of weeks, operating from funds they have on hand. "After that, who knows?" courts spokeswoman Karen E. Redmond told the Times. The Post Office will stay open, as it is owned, but not operated by the federal government, but the IRS will close. That means many people waiting on refund checks will have to keep waiting. However, Social Security checks will go out.
    For Congress: A group of 21 Senate Democrats is trying to pass a bill to halt pay for Congress and the President, but that seems unlikely, the Post reports.
    “Our bill is simple: If we cannot do our work and keep the government functioning, we should not receive a paycheck,” the Senate Democrats wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “If we cannot compromise and meet each other halfway, then we should not be paid.”


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