The time to dust off shutdown, furlough plans is approaching

(After a 16 day shutdown in 2013 some members of Congress wanted it to continue longer. How did your member vote? Find out here. – Admin.)

The Washington Post (use this link to see 108 “comments”)
By Eric Yoder
9/9/15

With the first partial government shutdown in two years looking more likely, federal agencies may soon have to dust off plans that have lain dormant since then, while federal employees would have to re-learn the facts of furloughs.

Shutdown contingency plans are on file for federal entities ranging from the AbilityOne Program to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and covering those large and small in between. Some are agency-wide, while others break down policies to offices as small as several dozen employees.

What they have in common is that all of them date to late September 2013, on the eve of the most recent partial shutdown, except for a few that are even older. The Office of Management and Budget in that month had told agencies to update them with a funding lapse pending on the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year. No similar order has been issued this time.

The documents divide federal agencies and their subcomponents into several categories.

First are those considered “exempt” from shutting down — and from putting their employees on unpaid furlough. One potential reason is that they are not funded from regular appropriations and thus would not be affected by a lapse in those funds. The U.S. Postal Service and the Thrift Savings Plan fall into that category, but so do parts of agencies that use other sources of funds, such as some grants programs or reimbursements for services they provide.

Also, some federal jobs that are funded by regular appropriations are deemed “excepted” from furloughs because the work involves the safety of human life or the protection of property. It’s up to agencies to designate which positions fall into those categories.

Employees who are neither exempt nor excepted are subject to being put on an unpaid furlough for the duration of a funding lapse. These are called “non-excepted” employees — not “non-essential,” a commonly used term but unofficial and one that annoys many federal employees.

In the 2013 shutdown, about 800,000 of the 2.1 million non-postal Executive Branch employees were furloughed without pay. The rest continued working, some without pay for the meantime but guaranteed that they eventually would be paid. Those who were furloughed later were paid for that time, as well. (There was a separate set of furloughs in 2013 related to sequestration budget limits for which employees were not paid.)

The funding lapse lasted two weeks, although nearly half of those who had been furloughed were called back earlier following passage of a special funding bill for the Defense Department.

Depending on how long a furlough lasts, there can be effects on benefits for the employees. Those policies, too, haven’t been updated in two years.

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