800,000 Federal Workers Face Possible Furlough
Policy + Politics

800,000 Federal Workers Face Possible Furlough

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The Obama administration on Wednesday began parceling out the bad news of what to expect in the event of a government shutdown this weekend:  up to  800,000 federal employees nationwide could be furloughed,  national parks, museums and monuments would be closed, and many agencies would be shuttered or crippled because of the ongoing budget impasse.

With only about 48 hours remaining before the latest temporary spending measure runs out, federal departments and agency heads, rank-and-file workers, federal contractors and untold numbers of tourists and vistors to Washington and national parks were bracing for the strong possibility of at least a brief shutdown – the first since 1996.

According to a senior White House official and others in government, here’s how a number of departments and services could be affected:

  • The Federal Housing Administration would be unable to provide guarantees on new home loans.
  • The Small Business Administration would stop processing loans. The Environmental Protection Agency would stop doing environmental impact assessments, forcing delays for construction projects.
  • The Internal Revenue Service would experience delays processing the tax refunds of paper filers.
  • National parks and Smithsonian museums in the nation’s capital would close.
  • Government Web sites wouldn’t be updated;
    • Washington’s annual Cherry Blossom Parade might be canceled.
  • Trash collection services in the District of Columbia would be suspended.
  • D.C. libraries and Department of Motor Vehicle offices would be closed.
  • Military personnel would not receive paychecks next week, but they would continue to earn salaries during the shutdown.
  • Federal courthouses would close for business.

One of the big unanswered questions is whether furloughed  workers would eventually be paid. Rep. James Moran, D-Va., whose district has several thousand federal employees, said on a conference call Wednesday that “it is highly unlikely that about 1 million federal employees who are not working will ever be reimbursed” for time missed on the job.    This would be a stark contrast to 1995-1996 shutdowns, when furloughed workers were reimbursed by Congress retroactively.  Any of the 1.9 million civilian government employees could be furloughed if they are deemed non-essential by their superiors.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management notes on its Web site that “excepted” employees will receive pay for the hours worked during the shutdown when a new appropriations or continuing resolution is passed. The site doesn’t say whether salary payments would be made for “non-excepted” furloughed workers.

An “excepted” worker is defined as  a person performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property; performing minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations related to non-excepted activities, or; performing certain other types of excepted work. 

Meanwhile, speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday,  IRS commissioner Douglas H. Shulman said that if the government shuts down, some of the IRS’s 100,000 employees wouldn’t be able to manually process returns for the 30 percent of taxpayers who file on paper, delaying refunds.  Because a majority of the employees who input data for the paper tax filers are part-time seasonal workers, many are expected to leave at the end of May for other work, said Patrick Cox, chief executive officer of TaxMasters Inc., a firm that specializes in taxpayer relief. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes them three or four months to catch up if the government shuts down for a couple of weeks,” he added.

As the Friday midnight deadline inches closer with no deal in sight, Democrats and Republicans continue to hurl accusations at one another. Speaking at a town-hall-style meeting in Pennsylvania, President Obama said both sides “agreed to a compromise, but somehow we still don’t have a deal because some folks are trying to inject politics.”

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, countered: “I like the president personally. We get along well. But the president didn’t lead.”  Added House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.: “These are very serious times for our country. We understand America is broke. My question is Mr. President – are you going to help fix it?”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the Republican leadership has the Tea Party “screaming so loudly in its right ear that it can’t hear what the vast majority of the country demands.”

As the rhetoric heated up over the last week, Americans reported a relatively negative feeling for both parties in Congress. Just 31 percent approve of the Republicans in Congress and 32 percent approve of the Democrats in Congress, according to the latest Gallup poll.

The House Rules committee was scheduled to mark up a Republican bill Wednesday evening to keep the government running another week. The bill includes funding for the Defense Department until the end of September according to a story from Politico.

Additionally, Politico reports President Obama would meet with Boehner and Reid at 8:45 pm  in the Oval Office. 

Related Links:
Majority of Experts Predict Government Shutdown (The Fiscal Times)
13 Ways a Shutdown Can Hurt You (The Fiscal Times)
Six Fiscal Issues that Could Shut Down Government (The Fiscal Times)