Much of the Federal Government Wouldn't Shut Down in a Government Shutdown

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

If the federal government shuts down at midnight Friday, much of its work will continue, according to carefully laid plans that have become a familiar part of agency life amid regular political brinkmanship.

Social-security payments will 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 Social Security Administration should make sure they go out.

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The planned Women's March on the National Mall should be able to go ahead, as the National Park Service says it has special provisions for first amendment activities that require crowd control. Meat, poultry and egg inspections will 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 investigating potential Russian interference in the 2016 election, since that doesn't rely on an annual funding appropriation. Mr. Mueller's team will join around 95,000 Justice Department employees continuing law-enforcement activities, because, the agency says: "The law enforcement capacity of the U.S. Government should not be impaired or perceived to be impaired."

The detailed picture, including the myriad justifications for shutdown exceptions, comes from hundreds of pages of contingency plans updated by federal agencies in 2017 and published online.

There is still work that will go undone, the plans show, and that comes with costs.

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."

Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist for S&P Global Ratings, said the impact would be lower in January because the holiday spending season was over and a shutdown wouldn't immediately run into federal workers' vacation time, giving them a chance to make up some lost ground, but that it would still likely knock off 0.1 percentage point for each week it lasted.

President Barack Obama's Office of Management and Budget issued a detailed report after the 16-day shutdown in 2013 that concluded its impact had been worse than realized -- including a loss of 6.6 million work days from furloughed employees who were paid around $2 billion for work not performed.

If the government shuts down again, Americans who need a new or replacement social-security card 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.

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission will 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. The Environmental Protection Agency will shrink from a staff of more than 14,000 to three presidential appointees and 781 other employees to "protect life and property," including by working on Superfund hazardous waste sites and securing EPA laboratories.

While many agencies have posted their most recent shutdown contingency plans, some have only older versions on the books. It wasn't immediately clear, for example, what would happen to the Executive Office of the President.

Under the Obama-era plan for the White House set in 2015, 545 out of 1,263 staffers would stay on the job, including 125 presidential appointees and other staff considered exempt from shutdown rules, as would 42 aides on the National Security Council and 128 officials at the Office of Management and Budget who can "assist in providing direction to the executive branch for the duration of any shutdown."

Among the other effects of the 2013 shutdown cited by the Obama administration: 1.2 million mortgage and loan applications delayed because lenders couldn't verify income and social-security numbers from the Internal Revenue Service, 200 drilling permits that languished at the Bureau of Land Management, and two million liters of U.S. beer, wine and distilled spirits that sat at ports because the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau couldn't issue export certificates.

The Park Service lost around $7 million in revenue from entrance fees, campgrounds, tours and special uses, Mr. Obama's OMB said. The October jobs report and consumer-price index weren't released, and around $3.7 billion in tax refunds were stalled.

Without Head Start appropriations, some grantees in the program providing early-childhood education to low-income families temporarily closed. A similar situation now awaits enrollees in the Children's Health Insurance Program, which has been without a reauthorization for three months, and has become a major sticking point in negotiations.

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 in past iterations of 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, though not everyone on Capitol Hill is convinced that would happen again in 2018.

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 19, 2018 05:44 ET (10:44 GMT)

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