Federal employees protest the partial shutdown on Wednesday.

Federal employees protest the partial shutdown on Wednesday. AFGE

The Government is Spending $90 Million a Day to Pay People Not to Work

The government’s debt to furloughed workers has already surpassed the payroll costs related to the 2013 shutdown.


That’s the tab that the government accrues on a daily basis to provide back pay to furloughed federal employees when federal agencies reopen, according to an analysis by Government Executive.

The partial government shutdown, which entered its 34th day Thursday, has halted the compensation of some 800,000 federal employees from a variety of departments and agencies. More than half of those workers are currently excepted from furloughs and working without pay, although they will be compensated when the government reopens. 

But with the enactment of the Government Employees Fair Treatment Act, which will provide back pay to all furloughed federal employees when agencies receive funding, agencies are now effectively paying more than 300,000 people not to work, although they won’t see that money until Congress and President Trump reach a spending deal.

Using employment and average salary data from the Office of Personnel Management for more than two dozen agencies, along with furlough estimates from agency contingency plans filed with the Office of Management and Budget both before and after the shutdown began, Government Executive estimates that the amount the government owes furloughed workers grows by approximately $86.5 million per day, or $1,001 per second.

As of midnight Thursday morning—33 full days into the shutdown—the cost of lost productivity in terms of furloughed workers’ salaries exceeded $2.8 billion, significantly more than $2 billion OMB estimated to be the furlough costs associated with the 2013 shutdown. All federal agencies were shuttered during that 16-day lapse in appropriations. 

Government Executive's figure for this shutdown is likely a conservative estimate. As the shutdown has progressed, thousands of federal workers have been both furloughed as carryover money and other funding sources dried up, and recalled as the administration has deemed new government services to be exempt from the Anti-Deficiency Act. And average salary data for some agencies, like the Executive Office of the President, were not easily derived from OPM's figures.

To develop its estimate, Government Executive took the number of employees furloughed at an agency and multiplied it by average daily salary at that agency. Average daily salary was calculated using data on average annual salaries from OPM's Fedscope database, divided by 365 calendar days in the year. This equalizes the variations in work schedules within and across impacted agencies. The salary data in Fedscope are current as of June 2018. 

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