Shutdown Stress Means Free Counseling for Feds
Policy + Politics

Shutdown Stress Means Free Counseling for Feds

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

As the congressional drama continues over the looming partial shutdown at the Homeland Security Department, contingency preparations are affecting multiple players.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said officials have started informally notifying employees who would face furloughs, and on Wednesday, DHS Chief Information Officer Luke McCormack reminded his staff that counseling services are available, according to an email obtained by Government Executive.

Related:  More Punting Ahead for House GOP on DHS Spending

“As the [Friday midnight] deadline nears, we will provide you with the timely and relevant information you need to address every stage of this process, up to and including – only if necessary – a DHS furlough,” he wrote. “This is a stressful time for all of us, and we want to remind you that DHS has a number of no-cost services available through the Employee Assistance Program, including confidential counseling, financial planning, and other services. Please take advantage of the benefits you so rightfully deserve.”

The contracting community on which DHS relies heavily has been monitoring the political stalemate over immigration policy carefully. “We understand most DHS employees are classified as ‘essential’ and some DHS agencies are ‘fee funded,’ thus not subject to congressional appropriations and shutdown,” said Michael Fischetti, executive director of the National Contract Management Association. 

“Not all, but a small skeletal DHS contracting staff, is considered ‘essential’ and therefore all ‘essential’ contracted work would continue unaffected in the short term.”

Related: Will the House Follow Ted Cruz and Vote to Fund DHS? 

But for most program and contracting managers, a partial shutdown means “business chaos,” Fischetti said in an email.  DHS contractors “could experience disruption…affecting all manner of contract management, performance, payment and new awards,” he said. “Determining the disposition of hundreds of tasks across many contracts creates burdens for all parties, resulting in re-negotiations, partial terminations and modification and amendments of contracts, and solicitations. The specific effect will depend on the particular contracted activities being performed.”

Contract oversight would also be affected, along with broader oversight efforts. The team of DHS agency leaders that has fanned out over the past few weeks to sound the alarm against a funding cutoff included Inspector General John Roth.

On Tuesday, Roth told a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that if Congress fails to provide new funding, “oversight functions will come to an end."

He added, "We will stop work on all audits and reviews except one on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s use of the disaster relief fund and field office criminal investigations,” noting that those essential employees who continue to work are not guaranteed pay.

The IG’s office of 728 employees would face 55 percent furloughs, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service study.

Since October, Roth added, the department has “been deprived of the budget stability” needed for long-term planning. 

This article originally appeared in Government Executive.

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