If Congress fails to pass appropriations bills or a continuing resolution by the end of this week, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed. But based on agencies’ shutdown plans, they would actually be in the minority: roughly 65% of the overall federal civilian workforce would continue working through the shutdown, either with or without pay.
A Federal News Network analysis of agencies’ publicly-available plans for appropriations lapses shows that out of a total workforce of just over 2.3 million, more than 1.5 million would be either “exempt” or “excepted” from shutdown furloughs.
Those two categories are very different. “Exempt” employees work in positions that are financed through some funding source other than annual appropriations. Because of that, they would be unaffected by a lapse in appropriations — at least until those alternative funding sources run out. There are just over 860,000 employees in that group, making up 37% of the total federal workforce. Assuming a shutdown is relatively short, they would generally work and be paid as usual.
“Excepted” employees, on the other hand, are paid through annual appropriations, but their agency has determined they must stay on the job even with no funds available to pay them. There can be many reasons for that determination: in some cases, for example, they’re needed to protect life and property; in others, there are specific federal laws applying to those positions that dictate their work must go on even without appropriations. There are nearly 659,000 positions in the “excepted” category.
The numbers, of course, vary widely by agency. The General Services Administration, for example, is funded largely by fee revenue — so out of a total workforce of 12,362, GSA has determined 11,616 positions are exempt. An even bigger example is the Veterans Health Administration. VHA is funded through advance appropriations, and its workforce of 367,741 makes up a massive share of the total government’s “exempt” workforce all by itself.
But agencies like the Department of Education that rely mostly on appropriations face a far different picture: Education would end up furloughing 3,683 of its 4,091 employees, according to the department’s latest shutdown contingency plan.
One major caveat: these governmentwide totals are somewhat inexact, mostly because many agencies haven’t updated their shutdown plans recently. We’ll continue to update the table below as more agencies release revised figures.