Architect of the Capitol

Federal Agencies Once Again Prepare For A Possible Government Shutdown

Fiscal 2017 starts Saturday; the Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on a short-term CR before sending it to the House.

The Office of Management and Budget is working with federal agencies to plan for a possible government shutdown if Congress fails to pass a stop-gap spending bill by Friday.

OMB “strongly believes that a lapse in appropriations should not occur,” an agency spokesperson said on Monday, and that there is enough time for Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution this week. “However, at this time, prudent management requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse and OMB is working with agencies to take appropriate action,” said the spokesperson over email. “It is our hope that this work will ultimately be unnecessary and that there will be no lapse in appropriations.”

OMB held a planning call on Sept. 23 with agencies, which OMB Circular No. A-11 requires regardless, one week before agency spending runs out. “One week prior to the expiration of appropriations bills, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent, OMB will convene a meeting or teleconference with agency senior officials to remind agencies of their responsibilities to review and update orderly shutdown plans,” said the circular. “OMB will hold follow-up meetings or teleconferences on a periodic basis until such time as appropriations are enacted or a lapse in appropriations has occurred.”

Congress has managed to avoid a government shutdown for the last few years after coming to the brink several times. The government last closed because of a lapse in appropriations for 16 days in 2013. Toward the end of 2015, several agencies updated their shutdown plans from 2013, including decreasing the number of employees they would furlough during a shutdown.

The Housing and Urban Development Department, for instance, is now updating its Dec. 7, 2015 shutdown plan and is on target to complete the updates by close of business Monday, said spokesman Jereon Brown by email. “Every program area is relooking their submission and ensuring the points of contact are correct in the event we have to initiate the plan,” Brown said. “We’re hoping for the best but, preparing.”

Click here for latest Office of Personnel Management guidance on shutdown furloughs.

The Senate, which will resume consideration on Monday afternoon of the CR funding the government through Dec. 9, is expected to vote Tuesday on the measure. The Washington Post on Monday reported that House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., plan to introduce an amendment that would automatically extend the CR through Jan. 18 if lawmakers fail to agree on a deal past Dec. 9.

Fiscal 2017 begins Oct. 1, so Congress must pass a CR this week to avoid a shutdown. The House will take up the bill after the Senate votes on it.

“The resolution is not perfect, but it is clean, responsible, and will ensure we meet our nation’s current, critical needs,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., last week, adding that it is “essential” that the government stays open. “I support this legislation, and it can and should be approved by Congress and sent to the president as soon as possible.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on the floor last Thursday offered what he called a “clean” continuing resolution. “It contains a significant down-payment on flood relief for many states, including Maryland, West Virginia, and Louisiana,” McConnell said. “And of course, it includes important resources to support our veterans and combat Zika.”

But Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, urged Democrats to oppose the CR because it doesn’t contain emergency funds for the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Mikulski also said Democrats objected to the continuation of a current measure that prevents the Securities and Exchange Commission from forcing companies to disclose political spending.

Mikulski, who represents 300,000 federal workers, said Thursday she wanted them to “know we are working very hard to keep the government open and avoid a shutdown or a slamdown.”

The Democrat said people in Flint, who have been waiting for more than a year for help related to the water crisis, “should be included in this continuing resolution,” which includes $500 million in emergency funds for Louisiana flood victims. “I want to be clear, we do want to help the people of Louisiana, but we do want to help the people of Flint,” Mikulski said.

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said Congress “yet again is facing a crisis of its own making,” urging lawmakers to pass a CR this week that includes funding for fighting Zika and addressing the water crisis in Flint. It should also “be free of any anti-worker provisions,” Cox said. While a shutdown seems unlikely, Cox said, the possibility of one is “a needless and avoidable distraction for millions of public servants and American families who depend on the government staying open.”

McConnell said the CR he has offered was “the result of many, many hours of bipartisan work across the aisle.” The CR also contains the full-year, fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill. The MilCon-VA portion of the legislation includes provisions aimed at strengthening protections for whistleblowers at the Veterans Affairs Department. Among other things, it includes provisions that would punish VA supervisors for inappropriately handling whistleblower disclosures, in addition to tying their performance evaluations and bonuses to how well they handle whistleblower complaints.