On shutdown eve, the Biden administration adjusts furlough plans at some agencies
Fewer government services will be available during a funding lapse than previously expected.
Some agencies have tweaked their shutdown plans at the 11th hour to adjust the number of employees they send home in the event Congress fails to act before current funding expires Saturday night, which in two high-profile cases would result in even fewer services being available to the American public.
The Treasury Department has reversed course on its plan for the Internal Revenue Service, which initially expected to use funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to keep nearly its entire workforce on board during a shutdown. In an updated plan released Thursday, Treasury said that it will instead furlough two-thirds of its 90,000 employees.
IRS will cease all audit functions, return examinations and most planning and training activities. The new plan will also require taxpayer phone calls and written correspondence to go unanswered, 363 Taxpayer Assistance Centers across the country to close and refunds that cannot be automatically deposited to go unprocessed. IRS typically receives about 46,000 phone calls per day in October.
The agency has excepted preparations for the upcoming tax season, including related hiring and training.
IRS received $80 billion over 10 years as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, which, in a shutdown plan released last year, the agency said it could tap into to keep it afloat during any lapse in appropriations. A Treasury official said on Thursday, however, that plan was developed before it finalized the law's implementation plan and fiscal 2023 appropriations bills were enacted. Less IRA funding is now available, the official said, as IRS has begun spending it on operations and improving customer service. Depleting the IRA funds during a shutdown is not sustainable if the agency is going to continue delivering on its larger modernization goals, the official added.
“It will be incredibly difficult for Americans to conduct business with the IRS during the impending government shutdown," said Doreen Greenwald, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents most IRS workers. Those employees, she said, "are now preparing for the financial hardship that comes with missed paychecks, which is possible if the shutdown extends well into October."
Employees who will continue to work using IRA funds will receive their paychecks on time. Furloughed employees are guaranteed back pay once the government reopens. Congress has until late Saturday evening to pass a funding measure that would avoid a shutdown, but the House and Senate have yet to coalesce around any plan to do so.
The Interior Department, meanwhile, updated its shutdown plan on Friday for the first time since the Trump administration, releasing a framework that would see just over half of its employees sent home on furlough. That marks a significant change from the Trump years, when Interior furloughed about three-quarters of its workforce. Controversially, however, the department kept most National Parks open.
Initially, it did not staff them. That led to trash buildups, issues with restroom waste and damage to natural resources, among other problems. NPS eventually brought more staff back to handle those incidents, tapping fees collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to better serve visitors.
The Government Accountability Office, which enforces the Anti-Deficiency Act, the law that governs federal spending during shutdowns, ultimately found the Trump administration acted unlawfully during the 2018-2019 funding lapse. GAO said Interior violated the law when it used the recreation fees to keep parks open and continue services such as trash collection and restroom maintenance. It also faulted the Agriculture Department for disbursing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits early during the shutdown
The Trump administration's decisions tore "at the very fabric of Congress’s constitutional power of the purse,” said GAO, which threatened fines and imprisonment for officials who acted similarly in the future.
This time around, the Biden administration is planning to close access to all National Parks properties and will furlough about 68% of its workforce.
“The majority of National Park sites will be closed completely to public access,” the agency said. “Areas that by their nature are physically accessible to the public will face significantly reduced visitor services. Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit National Park sites during the period of lapse in appropriations.”
Law enforcement, emergency response, fire suppression and other efforts to protect life and property will continue.
Other agencies have adjusted their shutdown plans slightly in recent days. The Health and Human Services Department, for example, shifted from furloughing 40% of its 88,000 to instead sending home 42%.