EPA, Smithsonian preparing more closures, as partial shutdown extends into January

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As the partial government shutdown settles into a full week and beyond, some agencies are preparing to send more employees home.

The Environmental Protection Agency, most notably, is preparing to close much of its operations since Congress isn’t prepared to pass an appropriations bill or continuing resolution by Friday, Dec. 28.

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EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler had told employees last week the agency had enough carryover funds to last through the week of Dec. 24. But without an immediate solution on Friday, the agency is preparing for shutdown.

“Employees will be placed on furlough,” EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Thursday in a new email to employees. “Employees will receive instructions, which includes accessing and reading your furlough notice over email, changing your voicemail message, enabling your electronic out-of-office message, and completing your time card. These activities should be done on your first scheduled workday and employees may conduct these activities remotely. All travel is cancelled for furloughed employees. If you are required to work as part of excepted or exempted activity, you will be notified separately.”

According to EPA’s most recent contingency plan as of Dec. 17, 753 employees are needed to maintain life and property if the agency runs out of funding. EPA’s 29 program and regional laboratories are also considered “excepted” during a lapse in appropriations.

EPA had determined that 13,705 employees, or about 98 percent of its workforce, were covered with carryover funds or no-year appropriations. With carryover funds about to expire on Friday, much of the EPA workforce will be sent home.

“AFGE Council 238 opposes any government shutdown as unnecessary and counterproductive,” council President Gary Morton said Friday in a statement. “Federal workers are ready, willing and able to perform the jobs they were hired for, which the American taxpayers expect. AFGE calls for an immediate end to the shutdown and for Congress and the President to fund the federal government.”

The Smithsonian Institution, which had kept museums and the National Zoo open throughout the holiday week, will run out of funds by Dec. 31.

Leadership at the Department of Homeland Security will adjust its plan after the first five days of the shutdown, according to the department’s contingency plan. DHS employees at the department’s general counsel and labor and employee relations offices, for example, were needed for the first three days of the shutdown to help distribute furlough notices and oversee procurement and contracting closeout.

Some staff at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center were kept in place to help students at the department’s training academies leave for their home stations for only the first three days of the shutdown.

The IRS’ contingency plan only accounts for the first five days of a lapse in appropriations. After that, the agency’s leadership will reassess. About 88 percent of the IRS workforce is already furloughed. The National Treasury Employees Union, along with several IRS oversight entities, have warned the agency may need to push back the start of the 2018 filing season if the shutdown continues.

Most agencies have the ability to recall some employees to return to work on a temporary basis to respond to emergencies or perform certain activities, but they’ll return to “furlough” status once that work is complete.

The Federal Aviation Administration, for example, will recall safety personnel as the shutdown continues.

Individual NASA centers will also add or reduce staff to respond to the evolving needs of the International Space Station and other active missions, according to the agency’s contingency plan.

The Agriculture Department, according to its contingency plans, plans to add more staff at some agency subcomponents as the shutdown extends past five days. Total staff at USDA is expected to reach nearly 59,000 after shutdown day five, up from about 23,600 employees earlier this week.

That’s still well below USDA’s total workforce of more than 95,000 employees.

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