What happens during government shutdown?

A lot of people don’t really understand what happens during a government shutdown. The answer is complicated. But simply put, what happens during a government shutdown is that many federal functions stop (such as national parks). But some will continue because they are necessary (including those keeping the airports operating). And a third class of government services will continue operating because their funding is separate from general government funding (such as USPS)

A shutdown starts because funds are not available due to lack of legislation (appropriations law or continuing resolution). Since there are no funds, the shutdown will begin.  In technical terms a furlough is necessary. A furlough is defined as “placing of an employee in a temporary nonduty, nonpay status because of lack of work or funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons.”

CBO infographic showing federal government revenue and expenditure
The U.S. Government has 3.9 trillion of annual spending. What happens during a government shutdown? A lot of this spending stops!

Some functions are determined necessary so will continue. This is because of a law called the Antideficiency Act. Federal agencies are only able to do even the most critical activities because of this law.

Based on current guidance (advice to federal agencies), federal employees are informed as far in advance as possible whether they will be subject to a furlough. Otherwise, after the lapse in funding and shutdown, an employee would show up for work and told whether they are “excepted” or “non-excepted”.

Employees with “non-excepted” positions will be told they can’t work until a law appropriates, or funds, the government.

“Excepted” jobs are supposedly those that involve protection of life or property, but agencies can include anything else in that category that they deem necessary to preserve. These excepted employees will continue working but won’t be paid until a subsequent law funds it. But these people suffer further losses of benefits; Employees with this statuscannot use sick leave, annual leave, comp time, bereavement leave or make use of any other form of paid leave.

Frequently Asked Questions About What Happens During A Government Shutdown

We try to answer common questions for the general public, federal employees and federal contractors here. If you have any other questions about what happens during a government shutdown, please contact us as shutdowns@whenwillthegovernmentshutdown.com.

Is there mail service during a shutdown?

If the government shuts down there will still generally still be mail service.  In the past, the mail service keeps running because like the Federal Reserve, USPS is exempt. The post office isn’t funded by Government appropropriate but rather is a self supporting entity.

So those stamps you paid for last year will keep the mail service running during any shutdown.  It simply doesn’t apply to them.

What Happens to Astronauts During a Government Shutdown?

Many major activities across government are scheduled with the potential government shutdowns in mind, and NASA is no exceptions. Launches are often scheduled to not occur when there is a risk of a lapse of funding.

As mentioned above, only employees deemed necessary to protect life or property would continue working. Based on NASA’s shutdown plan for 2015, this is about 10 percent of the staff. The facility staff of Goddard Space Flight Center reduced by about 90% from over 3,000 to just over 300. Johnson Space Center reduced by nearly 95% to fewer than 200 employees! But both centers had additional staff on call.

What happens to the military during a government shutdown?

Similar to other agencies, theDefense Department would be able to keep personnel that are deemed necessary to protect life or property. This generally means all active-duty personnel are deemed “excepted”, so would continue to work without pay and further loss of benefits.A shutdown also prevents death benefits being paid to the beneficiary of fallen soldiers.

But civilians in the DoD are furloughed. Based on their 2015 plan about 80% or 600,000 civilian Department of Defence employees would be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown.

Past shutdowns had separate legislation passed to bring back some furloughed civilian employees and to pay active duty soldiers.

There are added difficulties to enter into new contracts for defence contractors during a shutdown but previously funded contracts can continue.

Can Federal Employees volunteer to work during a government shutdown?

It’s probably true that a large proportion of the millions of hardworking federal employees would happily volunteer to work during a shutdown. They would likely get back-paid once legislation to fund the government is passed. But unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency cannot accept the voluntary services of an employee. (See 31 U.S.C. 1342.) Further, employees wouldn’t even be able to attend previously scheduled training.

Do federal employees get paid for their work before a shutdown, even though payroll personnel would be affected?

According to the 1980 bulletin “Shutdown of Agency Operations Upon Failure by the Congress to Enact Appropriations”, the payroll staff would be “excepted” for the necessary time to process the payments.  So hardworking civil servants will keep processing payments for past work done prior to the lapse in funding.

What will employees paycheck look like after coming back from a shutdown?

It depends. If congress authorized backpay of the shutdown period, the paycheck may include this back-pay. But that may not happen in the first paycheck. During a shutdown, health insurance benefits (FEHB) continue, but the employees portion will be withheld once the employee returns to pay. So there may be a larger than typical deduction due to the employees 25 percent of the health insurance premium.

Can federal employees get unemployment compensation during a shutdown?

In theory, Yes. It depends on the rules in the employee’s state.Some States require a waiting period (e.g. 1 week) before for the employee would be eligible payments.

We hope you have a better understanding of what happens during a government shutdown. Please comment or email us any questions!  Read some details of the upcoming potential March 2018 government shutdown.