Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced the bill.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced the bill. Steve Helber/AP

Lawmakers Want to Guarantee Back Pay For All DHS Employees if Agency Shuts Down

Bipartisan bill would provide retroactive pay to about 30,000 furloughed workers.

All Homeland Security Department employees would receive back pay in the event of an agency shutdown under a measure introduced by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers Tuesday.

The bill would provide retroactive pay for about 30,000 workers who would face furloughs for the duration of the shutdown. Unlike those who are forced to report to work without paychecks during an appropriations lapse, back pay for furloughed employees requires an act of Congress.

DHS will be forced to shut down at midnight Friday if Congress fails to reach an agreement to fund the agency. The prospects of avoiding a lapse in appropriations appeared to improve Tuesday, but no deal was finalized.

Congress has historically agreed to retroactively pay federal employees for the days they were forced to stay home in previous government shutdowns, most recently in October 2013. The House unanimously agreed to grant about 900,000 furloughed feds back pay mid-shutdown that year, but the measure stalled in the Senate. The pay was not guaranteed until lawmakers struck the deal to reopen government, 16 days after it shut down.

“The role of DHS employees has never been more critical than it is today,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who introduced the bill. “Yet for the second Congress in a row, federal workers face lost paychecks due to furloughs mandated by partisan politics. Today’s bipartisan proposal ensures DHS employees will not lose their pay just because Congress cannot agree on a funding bill. The men and women of the DHS work hard every day to keep us safe. Now we have to uphold our commitment to them.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said it would be “unacceptable” to not guarantee the pay of furloughed workers.

“They deserve better than the dysfunction that too often plagues our budgeting and appropriations process,” said Wittman, who was among 10 cosponsors of the bill.

Federal employee groups have said many DHS employees live paycheck to paycheck, and temporarily cutting off their paychecks would force them to make tough decisions. 

“The prospect of a DHS shutdown is unsettling enough for employees, without the added worry of wondering whether they’ll get paid when the shutdown ends,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox. “This bipartisan legislation takes at least one concern off the table, so employees can focus like they always do on protecting and serving the American public.”

The approximately 200,000 DHS employees forced to work without pay during the shutdown would be guaranteed by statute to receive their entire pay once the agency fully reopens.