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White House, Agencies Begin Prepping for ‘Executing an Orderly Shutdown’

OMB held call with agency leaders to order updates to shutdown plans issued this summer.

Federal agencies submitted their shutdown plans to the White House in August as part of a new effort to plan for a potential failure by Congress to pass spending bills, and the Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing those blueprints.

After the 2013 shutdown, OMB told agencies they had to submit contingency plans for an appropriations lapse every other year, with the first one due Aug. 1, 2015. OMB reminded agencies of that requirement in a memorandum sent out earlier this year.

“Agency heads, in consultation with their general counsels, must develop and maintain plans for an orderly shutdown in the event of a lapse in appropriations. Up-to-date plans must be on file with OMB,” the guidance said. “Whenever there is a change in the source of funding for an agency program or any significant modification, expansion, or reduction in agency program activities, the agency must submit an updated plan to OMB for review that reflects this change.”

The submissions were created for “prudent planning,” OMB spokeswoman Emily Cain told Government Executive , adding the “exercise is not dependent on the current status of appropriations.”

Now that Congress is once again on the verge of shutting the government down, however, OMB is “reviewing” the agencies’ plans and working with them to “take appropriate action.”

“We are now in a situation where we may need” to implement the plans, Cain said. Congress has until the end of day on Sept. 30 to reach a deal to stave off a shutdown, and the path to doing so is still unclear .

On Monday evening, OMB held a call with agency leaders to discuss the possibility of a shutdown and ensure it was giving agencies “everything they need” to prepare, Cain said. OMB reviewed relevant legal requirements and told the agency officials to update their plans “for executing an orderly shutdown.”

In 2013, agencies did not publicly release their shutdown plans until just days before their funding ran dry. The blueprints spell out exactly which programs would continue, which offices would remain open and which employees would be sent home without the promise of retroactive pay. Federal agencies initially furloughed nearly 900,000 civilian employees during that appropriations lapse, while 1.2 million were forced to report to work with only the promise of pay once the government reopened.

“It is our hope that this work will ultimately be unnecessary and that there will be no lapse in appropriations,” Cain said. “There is enough time for Congress to prevent a [shutdown], and the administration is willing to accept a clean, short-term continuing resolution to fund government operations and allow Congress more time to negotiate an agreement that invests in middle-class economic priorities and helps our entire economy grow.”

Before voting on any such “clean” stopgap measure, the Senate will vote on a spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. That bill is unlikely to pass and even it did, President Obama has promised to veto it.

At the Defense Department, officials are being careful not to panic yet.

"We are not at that stage right now we need to be alarming or concerning employees,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said, adding there is “still time" to avoid a shutdown. He did say, however, there is some “behind the scenes” work being conducted to prepare.

Kevin Baron contributed to this report.

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