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Here's What Feds Can Expect If the Government Shuts Down Saturday

Park Service, Smithsonian have said disruption wouldn’t start until Monday; plans vary by agency.

If Congress and the White House fail to reach a budget deal Friday night, the resulting government shutdown would be the third in the past three decades to occur on a weekend.

While the 2013 shutdown began on a Tuesday, the second part of the December 1995 shutdown began on a Saturday, as did the shutdown on Columbus Day weekend in 1990.

This poses a special challenge for agencies with employees regularly scheduled to work weekends—the National Park Service, the State Department and the Smithsonian museums are examples.

Normal procedure for “an orderly shutdown” that unfolds on a Friday, according to past guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, is that non-exempted furloughed employees should report to work on Monday for no longer than three-four hours (unless they have special permission from OMB). During that time they are to “provide necessary notices and contact information, secure their files, complete time and attendance records and otherwise make preparations to preserve their work.”

Shutdown guidance signed on Friday by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney noted in the question and answer section that non-exempted weekend employees should report on their “first scheduled workday for the sole purpose of engaging in orderly shutdown activities. Excepted weekend employees should report for work to perform their excepted activities.”

For employees routinely scheduled to work on Saturday, the procedures on Friday were still being worked out by individual agencies, according to the National Treasury Employees Union and Government Executive contacts with several agencies.

At the State Department, which staffs many round-the-clock desks, guidance updated in December instructed weekend workers that “posts that normally operate on Saturdays or Sundays will immediately commence procedures” for non-exempt employees to shut down on Jan. 21. That would mean no new travel, no new hires and no speeches, the guidance said. (Many State Department employees are, however, exempt. For a look at percentages of employees who are exempt by agency, click here.)

An in-house message on Friday from William Todd, principal deputy assistant secretary and acting director general and acting director of human resources, said, according to the blogger Diplopundit, “The uncertainty of the current circumstances puts our workforce in a difficult situation, and should a lapse occur, it could impose hardships on many employees as well as the people that we serve every day.”  

Many national parks, according to comments made to reporters Friday morning by Mulvaney, will remain open under the Trump administration’s approach to a shutdown, though activities such as trash pickup may lapse, he said.

On Friday afternoon, the National Park Service—whose properties closed amid controversy during the 2013 shutdown—issued a statement saying, “We fully expect the government to remain open. However, in the event of a shutdown, national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. For example, this means that roads that have already been open will remain open (think snow removal) and vault toilets (wilderness-type restrooms) will remain open. However, services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full service restrooms, will not be operating. The American public and especially our veterans who come to our nation's capital will find war memorials and open air parks open to the public.”

Plans were also in flux at the Smithsonian, whose museums and national zoo closed to the public during the 2013 debacle. On Thursday, the Smithsonian released a statement saying those venues would remain open over the weekend but close on Monday—if the government has shut down. “The Smithsonian also has two museums in New York City that will be closed — the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum and Heye Center, a branch of the National Museum of the American Indian,” it added. “All the animals will continue to be fed and cared for at the National Zoo,” the statement said.

OPM shutdown guidance for those with “alternative work schedules” leaves the policy up to each agency. “Each agency that has an AWS program should have a policy specifying how flexible and compressed work schedules must be established and when they may be changed,” it said. “Normally, such schedules are established in advance of the pay period involved. Under such a policy, an AWS non-workday scheduled to occur during a shutdown furlough should not be changed after the pay period begins.”

Another complicating factor in shutdown planning is that some agencies are announcing they have enough resources to stay open for a while even after funds lapse. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, will operate normally the week of Jan. 22 even if there is no continuing resolution, Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a message to employees Friday. “Should the shutdown occur and remain in place through January 26, 2018, we will provide further updates on the agency’s operating status,” the message stated. “In addition, all travel needs to be approved by the Administrator’s Office.”

Erich Wagner contributed to this report.

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(Image via Flickr user NPCA Photos)