Whether a government shutdown is on the horizon for the holiday season, a majority of federal employees who took an anonymous online survey from Federal News Radio said their federal agencies are ready if a shutdown does happen.
Congress has until midnight on Friday, Dec. 22 to avoid a government shutdown. To do that, the House and Senate must pass either another stopgap continuing resolution or approve an omnibus spending plan, which came closer to reality on Tuesday, when President Donald Trump signed a bill authorizing more than $700 billion in defense spending for the rest of fiscal 2018.
The House is set to vote next week on a plan from Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) that would place federal civilian agencies on another continuing resolution until Jan. 19, 2018. On Wednesday, Frelinghuysen urged his colleagues to use this borrowed time to pass a comprehensive budget plan.
“This CR is not the preferred way to do the nation’s fiscal business. It is vital that all 12 appropriations bills be negotiated with the Senate and signed into law,” he said. “However, this resolution will allow time for the leadership of the House and Senate and the White House to come to agreement on a topline spending level for this fiscal year. Once this agreement is made, my Committee will promptly go to work with the Senate to complete the final legislation.”
In light of this latest round of congressional brinksmanship, Federal News Radio reached out to federal employees to gauge their thoughts over a possible shutdown.
More than 60 percent of the 572 respondents who identified as federal employees said they believe Congress will pass another short-term continuing resolution, while less than 5 percent said the House and Senate would approve an omnibus spending plan by the Dec. 22 deadline.
Less than 12 percent of respondents said a shutdown would happen, but predicted that it wouldn’t last more than a week. Meanwhile, 15 percent of respondents said a shutdown would last longer than a week.
If the government does shut down over the holiday season, a majority of respondents said their agencies are prepared to hold down the fort. More than 23 percent of federal employees who took the survey said their federal agency was “completely prepared” for a shutdown, while more than 36 percent said their agencies are “somewhat prepared” for a shutdown.
“My agency is as prepared as possible,” one respondent said.
“My agency communicated they won’t shut down regardless,” another federal employee said.
Several survey-takers said their workplaces wouldn’t be affected in the event of a shutdown, due to the way their agencies are funded. One elaborated that the agency has carryover funding to last it through the duration of a shutdown. Yet another added that their agency is ready for a shutdown, but the preparations cut into their day-to-day operations.
“In the past, that is where all the time/energy is spent, preparing for a shutdown,” the respondent said. “Plus, you can’t prepare for the future mission/spending of the agency because of the lack of an appropriation that contains funding or any changes to the mission.”
Ahead of the previous shutdown deadline last week, 27 agencies updated their contingency plans, which spell out which employees are considered “exempted,” or “essential,” which in both cases would mean they must continue to work through a shutdown. Meanwhile, “non-exempted” or “non-essential” employees would not work during a shutdown. The Office of Management and Budget also held a call with agency leaders ahead of the last shutdown deadline.
Agencies that updated their plans include NASA, the departments of State, Justice and Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration, the Office of Government Ethics, the Peace Corps and the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Only about 12 percent of survey respondents said their agency is unprepared for a government shutdown, while 10 percent said their agencies are “somewhat unprepared” for a shutdown. An additional 14 percent said they weren’t sure about their agencies’ preparations.
“They sent all civilians home last time, very bad,” one respondent said.
Whether those agency shutdown plans have been communicated to the workforce, however, is another matter. When asked what steps their agencies have made to prepare for a shutdown, more than 46 percent of respondents said they “haven’t heard anything from anyone.”
“There has been little or no information or discussion about the subject to employees,” one survey-taker said, while another federal worker said their agency hasn’t updated their 2015 plans, and has no idea if they are considered essential or non-essential in the event of a shutdown.
Other federal employees who took the survey said agency managers urged them to monitor news reports for updates about a possible shutdown.
“While we haven’t heard anything, the regularity of shutdowns or threats of shutdowns means we know the drill,” one federal employee.
In the event of a shutdown, chances are good this wouldn’t be a first for most federal workers, since respondents to our survey have, on average, 18 years of government service. Most respondents (64 percent) said they work for a large federal agency, including the Defense and Homeland Security departments, while 26 percent worked for Cabinet-level agencies like the Agriculture Department.