OPM wakes up to shutdown

As I have for the last dozen or so government shutdowns, I first went to the OPM web site. This time, nothing. Until this morning, that is. Finally there’s a link to “Funding Lapse Information Page.”

Only took a week to get this up. A week following months of runup thanks to our uplifting political debate.

Already OPM’s advice is getting skeptical reactions. Most notable are its sample letters for furloughed or working-but-unpaid federal employees to send landlords and other creditors. That drew a short, cynical writeup in New York Magazine. It pointed out, many lower-paid people furloughed are maintenance and custodial people who typically work for contractors, “who are unlikely to receive any back pay at all. But hey, maybe they can fix a few clogged sinks for their landlord.” OPM indeed, weirdly suggests in one sample letter that federal employees offer to barter maintenance services in lieu of rent.

I haven’t lived in a rental property since 1980. But I do recall getting a notice under the door if the rent was a day late. But I have grown kids who live in rentals, and I doubt landlords have gotten more lenient in the last 40 years.

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OPM has a more, let’s say, practical page, a 4-page PDF of 2018-specific information. I found it the on the 24th, but only by doing a search and backing into it. That was after hunting all over OPM’s page on the first weekday of the shutdown. There’s also a link to the Office of Management and Budget page which lists all of the agencies’ contingency plans.

That’s worth checking even for funded agencies. Because of the sometimes crazy plumbing of the federal government, funded agencies may not be entirely funded. A case in point is the Food and Drug Administration. It’s ostensibly part of the funded Health and Human Services. A reader points out FDA gets a lot of its funding from Agriculture, not HHS. Therefore, “FDA would be unable to support some routine regulatory and compliance activities. This includes some medical product, animal drug, and most food related activities. FDA will also pause routine establishment inspections, cosmetics and nutrition work, and many ongoing research activities.”

Ditto for some functions of the Indian Health Service, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

So OPM has become a good one-stop shopping point for a lot of shutdown information. But how come it took so long?

Corollary thought: Most of the unfunded departments, including Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development and Justice have posted notices on their home pages stating they are not updating their web sites. Given that so much is or isn’t going on among the components, shouldn’t web staffs be considered exempt so the public, and the departments’ own employees for that matter, stay informed?