EPA tells employees to keep working next week if government shutdown happens

The Environmental Protection Agency is telling its employees to still report to work next week — even if Congress triggers a government shutdown over the week...

The Environmental Protection Agency is telling its employees to still report to work next week — even if Congress triggers a government shutdown over the weekend.

The EPA normally shutters most of its operations during a government shutdown. But EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe told employees in an email Thursday afternoon that the agency has “sufficient carryover payroll” to remain open through Oct. 7.

“That means that you will report to work as usual on your regular schedule during this time,” McCabe told employees in an email obtained by Federal News Network.

If a government shutdown continues past Oct. 7, McCabe told EPA employees that agency leaders will provide further updates on the agency’s contingency plans.

In general, the EPA plans to temporarily furlough most of its employees beyond the first week of a government shutdown.

McCabe said impacted employees will receive a notification that details resources available to them during a lapse in funding.

“There are some employees who work on excepted and exempted activities, including implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act,” McCabe wrote. “These employees will be notified by their senior leadership of their status and will continue to work on those specific projects during the shutdown.”

Federal News Network has reached out to the EPA for comment.

A government shutdown will be a new experience for recent hires at the EPA.

Nicole Cantello, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 in Chicago, said the EPA planned to hire 1,800 employees this year.

The agency, she added, made about 100 new hires, so far this year, in Chicago.

Those hires are meant to help the EPA implement the Biden administration’s environmental agenda under the Inflation Reduction Act.

“But there’s an anxiety, because they have not experienced the shutdown before. They tend to be more paycheck-to paycheck, because they’re newer employees who don’t haven’t built up a lot of savings,” Cantello said.

Cantello said she’s fielding all kinds of questions from EPA employees — including whether the shutdown will impact promotions or temporary work details to report at other EPA offices.

“They just have a whole bunch of questions surrounding disruption of the federal government’s operations and whether or not their particular work situation is going to be taken care of during that time,” she said.

EPA, in its updated contingency plans posted Friday, said 1,893 employees — about 11% of its workforce of more than 16,000 employees — would keep working during a shutdown, once it runs out of carryover funds.

“In the event of a lapse in appropriations, the agency will assess the availability of unexpired multiple and no-year appropriations as well as funds available from other sources,” the agency wrote in its updated contingency plan for fiscal 2024.

The EPA in its September 2021 contingency plan was prepared to furlough 93% of its total workforce.

Roughly 65% of the overall federal civilian workforce would continue working through the shutdown — either with or without pay — according to a Federal News Network analysis of agency contingency plans.

The Inflation Reduction Act funds will also keep federal employees at other agencies working through a shutdown.

The IRS announced Thursday it will keep about a third of its employees working during a government shutdown — and will use IRA funds and other sources of revenue to make sure those exempt employees are paid on time.

But the IRS plans to furlough about two-thirds of its workforce during a lapse in funding. Taxpayers will have fewer options to get help from the IRS during a government shutdown. A Treasury spokesperson said about 46,000 phone calls will go unanswered every day.

A Treasury spokesperson said Thursday that IRS activities that were funded by the Inflation Reduction Act resources in fiscal 2023, or are excepted under longstanding governmentwide lapse in appropriations procedures, will continue.

Furloughed and excepted federal employees will get apid once a shutdown ends. Congress in 2019 passed the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, which guarantees back pay to employees who are not paid during the government shutdown.

“I am glad that we have that certainty, but I still recognize that missing a regular paycheck can be very challenging,” McCabe said.

McCabe said EPA leaders and the agency’s Office of Mission Support will hold a question-and-answer session for federal employees early next week.

“I understand that a lapse in funding is disruptive and makes it even more challenging for us to fulfill our mission of protecting public health and the environment. I also understand that it introduces uncertainty and confusion into our work and into your lives,” McCabe wrote.

EPA is also encouraging employees to update their personal contact information in the EPA’s Mass Alert and Notification System (MANS) to get notifications about potential changes in the status of a lapse in appropriations.

Furloughed federal employees are generally restricted from using agency-provided equipment, including access to their work email account.

“During the shutdown, they will not be given any information over their computer. They will have to watch the news, or get information from their union, which is what we’re doing,” Cantello said.

While the EPA keeps some employees on call in the event of environmental emergencies — including wildfires and hurricanes — Cantello said the union is concerned about a potentially sluggish agency response to an environmental emergency during a government shutdown.

“EPA is responding so much more rapidly, and so much more often now. And that rapid response will not be there if the furlough happens, because we’ll have to call everybody back,” she said. “And getting the wheels grinding on that, it’s going to take so much longer than usual.”

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