Here's What Would Happen If The Government Shuts Down This Week

Dec 17, 2018
Originally published on December 21, 2018 10:22 am

Updated Dec. 18 at 5:28 p.m. ET

Planning a trip to the Grand Canyon over the coming holidays?

You might want to have a Plan B ... or at least bring your own trail maps.

While the Grand Canyon, along with the rest of the national park system, is expected to remain open in the case of a government shutdown, visitor centers at the facilities probably won't. And some iconic sites, including the Statue of Liberty, may be closed altogether if the park service follows past practices.

That is, of course, unless Congress and the White House resolve their latest spat over funding the federal government.

For the National Park Service and many other agencies, funding runs out on Dec. 21 at midnight. And while the 75 percent of the government whose budget bills are already approved will be unaffected, the remaining 25 percent include some high-profile agencies and departments. Among them:

  • Homeland Security
  • Commerce
  • Interior
  • Agriculture
  • Housing and Urban Development
  • Justice
  • Transportation

Independent agencies, including NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, will also be closed. The FDA "does routine, unannounced inspections," Food Safety News wrote in January. "During these partial government shutdowns, FDA likely ceases routine checks while using its 'essential' personnel on problems that arise."

But within those agencies, some 420,000 employees are "excepted," in government parlance, from furloughs; that is, they are considered essential and will be on the job, but they won't be getting paychecks.

They include law enforcement officers at the:

  • FBI
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Border Patrol
  • Transportation Security Administration

TSA officers will still be screening airline passengers in one of the busiest travel periods of the year, but will very likely have to wait for paychecks during the holiday season.

An additional 380,000 employees will be furloughed — that is, sent home — also without pay, although Congress has previously appropriated back pay for federal workers when the prior shutdowns have ended.

Is this any way to run a government? Well, President Trump last week said he would "be proud to shut down the government" over his demands for money for a border wall, although he has since tried to back away from that position.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of not understanding that "people need their paychecks. Maybe that's not the life he leads," Pelosi told reporters Thursday. "It's not enough to say we'll pay you in January when people have to make ends meet in December."

Pelosi told reporters Tuesday bipartisan congressional leaders may be working on their own Plan B. One option they tossed around to avoid a shutdown was for Congress to pass a stopgap bill to keep federal agencies funded through early January. But they haven't reached an agreement even on that limited measure yet.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers union, called on the two sides to resolve their dispute.

"Our members take home an average of around $500 each week," AFGE President J. David Cox said in a statement. "Any interruption in their pay will have a devastating impact on them, their families and their communities."

Cox added, "Our members are asking how they are supposed to pay for rent, food and gas if they are required to work without a paycheck. The holiday season makes these inquiries especially heart-wrenching."

If it happens, this would be the second partial government shutdown this year. Agencies closed over a weekend last January in a brief spending squabble.
So it comes as no surprise perhaps that a new survey of government employees by the Partnership for Public Service finds a decline in how federal workers view their jobs and workplaces, what the study calls "employee engagement," from last year.

Scores declined at almost 60 percent for agencies, while 40 percent improved. Over the past three years, scores improved at some 70 percent of agencies.

The president himself will be out of town during the shutdown, on a 16-day stay at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. Not the greatest of optics, if those plans hold.

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So as we just heard, it's still unclear at this point how a shutdown can be avoided since most lawmakers are out of town until later in the week. Even a partial shutdown of the government could have widespread impact. It could affect hundreds of thousands of federal workers. And it could shutter some federal facilities over the holidays, unless Democrats and the White House reach a deal. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: A shutdown would affect nine federal departments and dozens of agencies. Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, the Justice Department would all be closed. So too would NASA and NOAA, the agency that oversees the weather service and tracks things like hurricanes. National parks would remain open, but be prepared to bring your own trail maps. Visitor centers will be closed, as will restrooms.

About 380,000 federal workers will be furloughed - that is, sent home - while another 420,000 will remain on the job, including Border Patrol and FBI agents and TSA officers. But they won't be getting paid. Jackie Simon is with the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers. She says the partial shutdown will wreak havoc with the federal workforce just before the holidays.

JACKIE SIMON: Our members can't ever afford to go without a paycheck. They take home maybe $500 a week after taxes and all the other things that are taken out of their paychecks. And they got to pay their rent. They got to pay their car notes. And they live paycheck to paycheck.

NAYLOR: Now, in previous shutdowns, Congress has approved back pay for affected workers. But it's not a good look for the government. The Partnership for Public Service released its most recent survey of government workers earlier this month. And it showed what it calls employee engagement, a measure of job satisfaction, was down last year compared to previous years. Max Stier, the group's CEO, says shutting down the government is the biggest morale-killer possible.

MAX STIER: It really ought not to be viewed as a reasonable pawn in political battles. Everyone gets hurt. We're talking about the employees and the damage it can do to employee engagement. But fundamentally, the public gets hurt.

NAYLOR: That's because functions important to public health and safety don't get done as well as they could otherwise, Stier says. Even planning for a shutdown diverts energy.

STIER: People don't realize even when there is not actually a shutdown that what has taken place inside the government is a ton of preparation for a potential shutdown. And it becomes itself a huge distraction that is costly.

NAYLOR: This would be the third shutdown during President Trump's almost two years in office, one he said he would welcome. But he may not be around to see it. The president is expected to leave the White House for a 16-day stay at his Florida resort. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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