U.S. Government Shuts Down, But Impact Likely to Be Muted

By Louise Radnofsky Features Dow Jones Newswires

Much of the federal government's work is expected to continue despite the partial shutdown because the Trump administration plans to proceed with many operations despite a lack of official funding.

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The Senate rejected a one-month spending bill that would have averted the shutdown. After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) indicated he would take steps to set up a later vote on a three-week spending bill, but Senate Democrats are opposed to it, leaving lawmakers with no path to reopen the government.

Still, many agencies have made plans to remain open with existing funds while they last, and critical services will be exempt from closure.

The State Department will generally continue to operate with funds that officials can access until they run out, though some operations could be restricted, the department said. Nearly 90% of Department of Homeland Security staff would also continue to work because they are considered essential staff, that agency said.

The Department of Defense published Friday an updated plan showing many operations would continue, including in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis plans to travel to Asia this weekend as scheduled because, the department said, "the secretary's trip is necessary for national security and foreign relations."

The Department of Transportation will furlough just over 37% of its roughly 55,000 employees in the event of a government shutdown. The department's shutdown plan would idle thousands of workers who perform tasks not linked to life and safety, including those doing grant administration and policy-making.

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But thousands more workers would remain on the job, including air traffic controllers, railroad inspectors and workers who positions are funded by multi-year appropriations or under contracts that would be unaffected by the lapse in annual appropriations.

The Federal Aviation Administration's aircraft registry will close, halting the delivery of new aircraft and the sale of used ones. But FAA workers in some 25,000 "life and safety excepted positions" would remain on the job, including air traffic control.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, employees received an email Friday from administrator Scott Pruitt informing them to come to work next week even if the government shuts down. "At this time EPA has sufficient resources to remain open for a limited amount of time in the event of a government shutdown," according to the email.

Several agencies released revisions to their plans that included an even wider scope of operations than previously indicated. A detailed picture, including myriad justifications for shutdown exceptions, had come from hundreds of pages of plans updated by federal agencies in 2017 and published online.

The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, said Friday that his agency intended a different shutdown approach from the one taken by the Obama administration in 2013.

"We are going to manage the shutdown differently; we are not going to weaponize it," said Mr. Mulvaney, who in 2013 was among congressional Republicans accusing the Democratic president of closing popular elements of government, such as national monuments, to turn public opinion against the GOP. Senior administration officials said Friday night they had sought to apply "flexibility" to shutdown rules.

Mr. Mulvaney said national parks would remain open, unlike in 2013, though trash collection would be suspended. He said he believed the parks would be adequately staffed to maintain security.

Social Security payments are expected to be deposited as 53,000 workers for that agency stay on the job because the payments don't rely on an annual appropriation and by "necessary implication," government lawyers have decided, the administration should make sure they go out.

The planned Women's March on the National Mall is likely to proceed, as the National Park Service said it has special provisions for First Amendment activities that require crowd control. Meat, poultry and egg inspections are scheduled to continue because they are considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be essential to safeguarding human life.

And so, too, will the work of special counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating potential Russian interference in the 2016 election because that doesn't rely on an annual funding.

In December, S&P Global Ratings estimated a fresh shutdown "could shave approximately 0.2 percentage points, or $6.5 billion, off of real fourth-quarter GDP growth for each week it drags on."

President Barack Obama's budget office concluded the impact of the 16-day shutdown in 2013 was worse than realized -- including a loss of 6.6 million work days from furloughed employees who were paid about $2 billion for work not performed.

If the government shuts down again, people who need a new or replacement Social Security cards will have to wait. The National Gallery of Art and Smithsonian museums have enough money to stay open Saturday and Sunday and would close thereafter. Some federally produced economic reports won't be released.

At the Internal Revenue Service, 43.5% of employees would continue working, a higher percentage than during the tax agency's less-busy months. The individual income tax filing season is scheduled to start Jan. 29.

Criminal investigations would continue, as would tax collections. But the IRS would halt most audits and wouldn't issue refunds, according to the agency's shutdown plan. The agency is also developing regulations to implement the tax law that President Donald Trump signed in December, but many IRS lawyers aren't considered essential personnel.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is planning to keep five presidential appointees, one administrative judge, two employees and a computer expert on the job in case of an emergency, telling everyone else to stay home.

And while payments to physicians treating older people in the Medicare program will continue, about half of the Department of Health and Human Services staff would be furloughed, the agency said. Substance-abuse hotlines, custody of unaccompanied immigrant children and care for patients currently enrolled at the National Institutes of Health would continue.

But the NIH would be unable to accept new patients, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could be unable to maintain its seasonal flu program, and most Food and Drug Administration safety activities would have to stop. Senior administration officials late Friday said flu activities wouldn't be suspended.

After the shutdown in October 2013, many federal workers now know the drill: Report to work for four hours of the first working day of a shutdown to learn whether they are subject to furloughs or considered exempt, put up "out of office" notices, secure property, and tie up loose ends for an indefinite period.

And unlike past shutdowns, federal workers can now readily access detailed guides from the Office of Personnel Management explaining that in some states they can file for unemployment compensation while going without paychecks but will have to pay it back if they are awarded back pay, which Congress authorized in 2013.

At a White House briefing Friday Mr. Mulvaney didn't say whether he supported giving federal workers, both those furloughed and those who work during the shutdown, back pay at the eventual end of the shutdown. Some congressional Democrats said they weren't confident that Congress could work out a deal to authorize it.

--Laura Meckler, Eli Stokols, Robert Ourlian and Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 20, 2018 01:58 ET (06:58 GMT)