White House: We want to make shutdown as ‘painless as possible’

The third shutdown of 2018 continues to follow a similar theme as the others: the Office of Management and Budget wants to make it as “painless as possible and stay consistent with the law.”

A senior administration said Saturday in a briefing with reporters that current estimates are the partial shutdown will impact about 15 percent of the workforce, and many agencies will have funding to stay open for the short term.

“This is not our normal situation where all of our discretionary funding has lapsed,” said the administration official. “We expect those workforce numbers to change. Those numbers are based on the lapse plans that the agencies are asked to send and post on their websites. But those are fluid documents. We are working on the agencies throughout this partial shutdown to be assessing those and making sure the activities are exempt or non-exempt.”

The official confirmed that agencies are sending out furlough notices so OMB will have a better idea of how many federal employees are impacted by the partial shutdown in the next few days.

Still, the official said the administration wants to keep the disruption to the agencies and public as minimal as possible.

To that end, the official laid out many of the federal activities that will continue, at least in the short term:

  • Food safety activities in the Agriculture Department will continue.
  • Farm Service Agency offices will remain office for about six days using prior year funding.
  • 2020 Census preparation will continue with prior year funds.
  • The National Weather Service will continue to provide weather forecasts.
  • Border security efforts by Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will work on the border wall.
  • The Transportation Security Administration is exempt from the shutdown.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development will make project rental payments.
  • Parks and monuments will be open, but the day to day operations may be impacted.
  • The Smithsonian Institution museums have enough funding to remain open until the end of 2018.
  • Passport operations at the State Department will remain open because they are supported by fees.

“We are trying to manage this partial shutdown with minimal disruption to the American people and give the negotiators [time] to get an agreement that accomplishes the border security priorities of this administration,” the official said.

Senate out until Dec. 27

The partial shutdown is likely to continue until at least Thursday, Dec. 27, as the Senate cloakroom tweeted out its schedule today.

“Following today’s session, the Senate will convene on Monday, December 24th at 11:00 am for a Pro Forma Session. Following the Pro Forma Session, we will next convene at 4:00 pm on Thursday, December 27th and consider business if a deal has been reached on government funding.”

The House announced it’s in recess until the speaker calls the members back.

Despite the Trump administration’s goal of a painless shutdown, the National Treasury Employees Union wrote letters to House and Senate members urging them to reopen the government and stop the pain.

“The third government shutdown in this calendar year is disruptive to hundreds of thousands of your federal employee constituents who, whether they are furloughed or on the job, remain unpaid during this holiday season,” NTEU national president Tony Reardon wrote in his letters to the Hill. “These middle-class employees depend on their paychecks to buy their groceries, pay their rent and mortgages, and provide for their families. And, as a reminder, it’s not just federal workers who are impacted — local economies, small businesses and contractors also suffer during a shutdown.”

Specifically, NTEU raised concerns about the partial shutdown’s impact on the IRS, which is expected to furlough about 88 percent of its workforce. Reardon said the lapse in funding comes just as tax filing season is getting going. The IRS also must stop training and preparation for the massive tax code changes mandated by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

The American Federation of Government Employees also downplayed the “painless as possible” theme from the administration. AFGE said every day the shutdown continues more and more Americans and federal employees will feel its effects.

Administration sees workforce impact, no word on pay raise

The official said the administration acknowledges the impact the partial shutdown is having on the workforce.

“We appreciate their public service. We understand this partial shutdown impacts them and leads to some disruption in their lives,” the official said. “Our hope by the time they come back after the holidays that we’ve reached an agreement so instead of doing orderly activities on Wednesday morning or any other time they are scheduled as a result of their holiday plans to arrive, we hope they arrive back at work ready to do the people’s business. We are in constant communication with our employees and we trust the president’s cabinet is doing the same with their employees for the agencies that have not been funded.”

The official, however, wouldn’t comment on the federal pay raise and whether the administration would support the 1.9 percent increase that Congress has included in the appropriations bill.

Lawmakers were unsuccessful in including language to finalize the pay raise in either of the continuing resolutions that made it through the House or Senate.

“Our hope is that this partial shutdown only lasts only a few days, but it could last longer than that. It’s not our hope, but it is something we will be prepared for,” the official said.