Most employees would still work, but operations would be disrupted significantly.
The Homeland Security Department will shut down Friday at midnight without congressional intervention, though many lawmakers think it is not that big of a deal.
Some in Congress have correctly noted about 86 percent of DHS employees still reported to work during the 2013 government shutdown. This has led some Republicans to speculate a DHS shutdown would “not be the end of the world.”
The agency itself, however, has a vastly different view.
Many DHS operations will feel the pains of an appropriations lapse, both because support staff will be furloughed and because funding for functions not considered essential to protecting life or property will be cut off. A deal in the Senate to fund DHS without any policy riders to disrupt President Obama’s executive actions on immigration appeared to be emerging Tuesday, but the agency continued to warn of the fallout if negotiations fail.
Here is a look at some of the top implications of a DHS shutdown:
1) Long-term security planning: DHS headquarters offices would be among the hardest hit by an appropriations lapse. Just 10 percent of the secretary’s office would report to work, and even fewer of the undersecretary for management’s employees. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Monday his office is tasked with strategizing how to “stay one step ahead” of ISIL, aviation security threats, illegal migration on the Southern border and extreme weather conditions.
During a shutdown, all of the staff with those responsibilities would be “cut down to a skeleton.”
2) Local law enforcement: DHS provides grants to boost security efforts at the local level. During a shutdown, nearly all of those grants would be cut off, in some instances because there would be no money and in others because no one would be there to process the payments.
Local first responders “need the resources of the federal government to be on their side so they can be on your side in your community when trouble hits you,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski at a press conference Tuesday. She added when a volunteer fire department needs a new truck it costs $1 million, and it typically cannot depend on its own funds to make the purchase.
3) FEMA emergency response and preparedness: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is, of course, tasked with helping states and communities around the country deal with disasters. It has already cut off funding for new, non-emergency grants, as the current continuing resolution does not allow for spending money on new projects. Funds for existing grants will soon run dry, forcing FEMA workers to leave areas in need, agency Administrator Craig Fugate said Monday. An additional $2.5 billion in FEMA grants are tucked into the yet unpassed fiscal 2015 DHS appropriations bill.
In the event of a shutdown, nearly 80 percent of FEMA employees would stay on the job. Fugate said this number was misleading, however, as about the same percentage of the agency’s permanent, year-round workforce would be furloughed. It would still have funds to give out certain emergency grants, but the workers who process those payments would be furloughed, so the grants would not go out. Training that cannot be rescheduled would be canceled, he said, and existing recovery efforts would be obstructed.
"There's real impacts to our ability to support the recovery from Sandy, Katrina, the Colorado floods, you name it, because our ability to continue paying and the rebuilding of those disasters will be delayed and postponed, and it will not be made up," Fugate said.
In the event of a new emergency that threatens life or property, FEMA would be able to provide assistance, but it would have to recall furloughed workers. In fact, it did exactly that during the 2013 shutdown.
4) Training: If DHS shuts down, less than 6 percent of employees at the department’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers would report to work, based on 2013 numbers. FLETC said Tuesday this would affect not just their own new hires, but 95 agencies at all three branches across the federal government. In addition to the previously mentioned grants, state and local law enforcement agencies would be cut off from training at FLETC facilities.
“For each week that the FLETC remains closed, a projected average of roughly 3,400 officers and agents per week would be affected,” the agency said. “All of the students currently residing at FLETC facilities would be sent home or housed off of the FLETC campuses.”
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said on Monday he feared some of his own new hires would find a new job altogether if they were sent home from their training, citing workers he lost in 2013.
5) Hiring: Speaking of new hires, DHS would effectively lose its ability to onboard new employees during an appropriations lapse. The current continuing resolution has already severely hampered that process. Hiring operations, including recruiting and processing, would cease during a shutdown.
6) Cybersecurity: Andy Ozment, DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, recently told a House committee he was “gravely concerned about the impacts of a shutdown” on the agency’s cybersecurity efforts. Nearly all of the department’s cyber employees would be exempt from furloughs, though it could delay new acquisition programs and curtail information sharing with the private sector and other federal agencies.
Ozment also said DHS would “lose the support” of more than 140 staff at the agency’s 24-hour National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center.
7) U.S. Coast Guard Maintenance and Operations: All of the Coast Guard’s military personnel would still report to work -- albeit without the pay they received in the 2013 shutdown -- as would most of its civilians. About 6,000 civilians would be furloughed during a shutdown, USCG said.
Still, the Coast Guard would have to defer or disrupt about $1 billion in acquisition or maintenance contracts. The DHS component said this would reduce “the long-term operational availability and effectiveness of the Coast Guard.”
In the short term, a shutdown would force USCG to make fewer routine law enforcement patrols and facility inspections, inhibit fisheries enforcement, curtail mariner licensing and credentialing, limit vessel inspections and reduce recreational boating safety efforts.
8) Employee morale: While about 86 percent of the DHS workforce would report to their offices during a shutdown, they would be forced to do so without pay. Groups representing DHS employees have warned of the impact that could have.
“Most DHS employees are middle-class Americans,” said National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley on Tuesday. “In fact, many live paycheck to paycheck. Most cannot afford to go without pay. They will find it hard, if not impossible, to make mortgage payments, pay credit-card bills and even feed their families.”
DHS employees recently ranked among the bottom among federal agencies for workplace satisfaction, and saw the largest drop off of any agency in 2014. Being among the 14 percent of employees told their work is not important enough to warrant coming in during a shutdown, or being forced to work without pay, will certainly not help those figures.