Countdown to Shutdown – The Basics

Unless Congress and the Administration can reach a deal by October 1, 2013, the federal government will technically “shutdown”.  This post describes some basic information on a possible shutdown.  More information will be provided as events unfold.

How can a government shutdown?

The U.S. government operates on a fiscal year (FY) basis that runs from October 1st through September 30th each year.  Each year, Congress funds the operation of federal agencies through the annual appropriations process.  In recent years, Congress has appropriated money through a series of stop-gap measures known as continuing resolutions (CRs).  The latest stop-gap measure is slated to expire at the end of the current fiscal year (FY 2013) – September 30, 2013.

Does a government shutdown mean the entire government will cease operations?

No.  Despite a shutdown, the government will continue to operate some services.  While the Antideficiency Act prohibits agencies from spending money that exceeds their appropriations, there are some exceptions to this requirement.  According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), certain services are deemed “essential” – services pertaining to national security and/or the protection of life and property and services required to make benefit payments for entitlement programs – and thus must continue to operate notwithstanding a shutdown.

Last week, OMB sent a memo to all executive agencies directing them to start planning in case Congress and the Administration are unable to come to an agreement and enact further appropriations.

Has the federal government previously shutdown?

Yes.  Most recently the federal government underwent two shutdowns – one for five days and the other for 21 days – when then-President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress differed over spending issues.

Do federal workers get paid when the government shuts down?

Not necessarily.  Even if a federal worker is deemed “essential” and thus must report for duty, this does not mean s/he will be paid for that work.  In the past, federal workers – whether essential or non-essential – have received their salaries retroactively when Congress and the Administration signs a new appropriations bill or CR.

More information on furloughs is available at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) site.

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