What Will Change During a Government Shutdown?
If a shutdown occurs because of a funding gap, many federal activities would cease. Agencies have some discretion in how they respond to lapses in appropriations.
For a complete analysis of past government shutdowns, access this Congressional Research Service Report
. Back to top.
What Government Services Will Continue?
Though many federal government activities will cease during a government slowdown, many others continue without interruption. Services that will continue satisfy at least one of the criteria set forth by the Antideficiency Act
: providing for national security, providing for benefit payments and fulfilling contract obligations, and conducting essential activities to protect life and property.
Determinations of which activities fall under these criteria are made by each government agency in
cooperation with the Office of Management and Budget.
Examples of activities that will continue during a government shutdown:
What Does a Shutdown Mean for Me?
What Does a Shutdown Mean for Social Security, Medicare, and Other Benefits?
- Members of the military remain on posts worldwide to defend American interests.
- Border and coastal protection personnel report to keep the nation’s borders secure.
- Federal security officers continue to protect federal property and personnel.
- Congress continues to meet in session and fulfill constitutional duties.
- The Judicial Branch continues to hear cases and issue rulings.
- The FBI and Department of Justice continue to pursue criminal investigations.
- The Treasury Department collects taxes and borrows necessary funds.
- The Federal Reserve continues to support the money and banking system.
- The Department of State conducts affairs with our allies and other foreign nations.
- The CIA, NSA, and related intelligence agencies continue to gather intelligence.
- Social Security, Medicare, and other mandatory benefit payments continue.
- Veterans’ hospitals maintain care of inpatients and provide emergency care.
- The air traffic control system remains in operation.
- Federal prisons remain guarded, and prisoners are fed.
- Federal emergency personnel respond to natural disasters.
- Electrical power is produced and the power grid is maintained.
- The U.S. Mint continues to produce coins.
- Any activity which has been funded or receives its funding outside of the appropriation process (such as the United States Postal Service) continues without interruption.
Programs like Social Security and Medicare are mandatory spending programs and do not depend on the appropriations process for funding. Thus, these programs will continue to operate, issue checks, and process new applications during a government shutdown.
Medicaid and SCHIP payments will not likely see an immediate impact from a lapse in federal funding, according to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2011. Consequently, the providers who serve Medicaid and SCHIP beneficiaries should likewise not be impacted.
SSDI disability benefits will continue to be paid to current recipients, but new applicants could experience delays in processing.
During the last government shutdown Unemployment Benefits, also paid for by mandatory spending, were not affected. It is expected that will remain the case. Back to top.
What Does a Shutdown Mean for Federal Workers?
During a government shutdown, the Antideficiency Act requires federal agencies to furlough employees who are deemed nonessential.
Each federal agency is responsible for determining which agency staff, if any, qualify as essential. They make such determinations in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which issues annual instructions for creating a funding gap contingency plan to each agency. Those instructions, based on two opinions issued by the Attorney General during the Carter Administration on the Antideficiency Act, inform agencies that they may retain only such personnel as are necessary to terminate an agency’s traditional activities, for only as long as is necessary draw them down, or to maintain activities directly related to the protection of life and property.
A federal Office of Personnel Management Memorandum explains what activities qualify as being "directly related to the protection of life and property." Such activities include:
- Providing for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property;
- Providing for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations authorized by no-year or multi-year appropriations, or other funds remaining available for those purposes.
- Conducting essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property, including:
Unless an agency receives the funds used to pay its government employees from outside the appropriations process – e.g. a self-funded agency such as the U.S. Mint or Postal Service – no employee will receive pay during the funding gap period. Because it accepts their labor to continue exempt activities, an agency is obligated to pay any non-furloughed employee after the conclusion of the funding gap. Back to top.
What Does a Shutdown Mean for the Military?
All active duty military personnel are exempt from furloughs and will receive pay throughout a government funding lapse. House Republicans acted on the morning of September 29 to pass a special provision ensuring continual pay for military personnel throughout a shutdown. The Senate approved this measure and President Obama has indicated he will sign the legislation.
With regard to military operations overseas, the House Committee on Armed Services advised in 2011, that the Secretary of Defense would ensure that any department shutdown plans not interfere with accomplishment in all military theaters or the safety of human life and protection of property including operations for the security of our nation. Any DOD activity related to those purposes would be exempt from shutdown, and the lives and property of our citizens will continue to be protected. Back to top.
What Does a Shutdown Mean for Veterans?
Back to top.
- How would a shutdown affect veterans' pensions?
In 2011, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs indicated that disabled veterans who receive disability compensation or pension checks should continue to receive those payments. Veterans with new or pending claims could be impacted by delays until funding for claims processors is appropriated.
- How would a shutdown affect survivor benefits?
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs noted in 2011 that survivors currently receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or a Survivors Pension would continue to receive those payments. New claimants, however, may experience delays in claims processing.
- How would a shutdown affect veterans disability compensation and claims processing?
It is expected that disability compensation would be the same for survivor, education, and pension benefits. Checks for current recipients would continue to go out, but new claims would likely experience delays.
What Does a Shutdown Mean for the Department of Defense?
The Department of Defense will cease some activities during a government shutdown. General intelligence gathering that is unrelated to ongoing military operations will be suspended. Non-essential training exercises, all promotion and administrative boards, non-urgent medical and dental procedures for non-active duty individuals, and the induction and contracting of new enlistees will be suspended.
For further explanation on how the Department of Defense operates during a government funding gap, refer to this Congressional Research Service Report: Operations of the Department of Defense During a Lapse in Appropriations
. Back to top.
What Does a Shutdown Mean for Federal Contractors?
In the event of a shutdown, the Antideficiency Act would significantly restrict federal agencies from entering into new contracts and spending additional funds on existing contracts. Contractors whose contracts are fully funded are also likely to see payments delayed. For a more complete idea of how a government funding gap will impact contractors, access this Congressional Research Service Report: What Would a Government Shutdown Mean for Federal Contractors? Back to top.
What Does a Shutdown Mean for Capitol Visitors?
In the event of a funding lapse, the Capitol will remain open for Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and members of the public on official business. For a complete listing of Capitol and Smithsonian Museum closures, access this handout
from the Committee on House Administration. Back to top.
District Offices in Boone, Clemmons, and Washington, D.C. are open to serve the people of North Carolina's 5th District.
Because of reduced staffing throughout the federal government, there may be delays in initiating and processing constituent service casework. Back to top.
Have Shutdowns Happened Before?
Since 1976 there have been seventeen government shutdowns. The Washington Post
ran an article detailing the circumstances leading up to each of the previous seventeen shutdowns. They’ve occurred with Democrats and Republicans in the White House. They’ve occurred with divided Congresses, with a Congress of one Party and a White House of the other, they’ve even occurred when Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House. Back to top.
How Will Other Government Services be Affected?
Does the President get paid?
According to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, under current law, the President continues to receive a paycheck during a federal government shutdown. His salary is paid through mandatory spending rather than through the appropriations process.
Would the FDA be affected – for example food inspection, drug approvals?
CRS notes that essential services, such as, “activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food and drugs and safe use of hazardous materials,” would likely be preserved. This is up to the agencies, but if in the interest of public health, it is likely that those activities would continue, even if streamlined. The situation may be slightly different from that for meat and poultry (regulated by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service), for which inspection is required in order for a product to be introduced into commerce. In both cases, however, it is up to the agencies and OMB to determine "excepted" positions.
Does the interest on the debt still get paid?
According to the House Budget Committee, interest on the national debt stills gets paid in the event of a government shutdown. Revenues will still be coming into Treasury to cover interest payments and it will still issue debt to make payments. A shutdown is different than breaching the debt limit. Back to top
Federal Projects and Operations
Would federal courts shut down? How would pending cases be treated? Would timelines keep running?
According to the House Committee on the Judiciary from 2011, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) has said that the Federal Judiciary would not have to shut down immediately because of the availability of other sources of funds. These funds should sustain Judiciary activities for approximately ten working days after an appropriations lapse. Once these balances are exhausted, if a lapse in appropriations still exists, each court will need to limit its operations to mission-critical activities, but the AO expects most judicial functions should continue during any appropriations lapse.
U.S. courts should continue to hear and decide cases without interruption. Thus, all cases including civil and criminal, old and new should be processed and argued, and judgments should be issued and enforced, according to normal schedules and priorities. Judicial activity should be limited to those functions necessary and essential to continue the resolution of cases.
Most activities of probation and pretrial services office staff will continue. Supervision of potentially dangerous probationers and parolees will be maintained and needed treatment services should be provided. In non-emergency situations, probation and pretrial services should continue to handle new cases or maintain existing cases.
The jury system will operate as necessary to assist the courts in the performance of Article III duties, though juror payments may be delayed.
Attorneys and essential support staff in federal defender offices and court-appointed counsel will continue to provide defense services, as needed.
Interpreters, librarians, circuit executives, and other like personnel will continue to be employed only if necessary.
Would prisons be secure?
According to the House committee on the Judiciary in 2011, care of prisoners and other persons in the custody of the United States is considered an excepted activity, as are personnel, in the event of a shutdown. Everyone who works at a the Bureau of Prisons is considered a federal law enforcement officer and expected to help with safety, even if their daily focus is on food preparation, health services, or something of the sort. Thus, during the last shutdown all prison employees were treated as essential. However, there will likely be some furloughs at the administrative offices, but employees working on intelligence and monitoring will likely also be considered essential. The same is likely to be true for pre-trial detainees held in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. Back to top.
Would the mail be delivered? Would post offices be open?
The U.S. Postal Service would continue mail delivery, retail service, and other operations in the event of a government shutdown. The Postal Service is essentially funded through the sale of postage.
Would National Parks and Museums (Smithsonian) be shut down?
According to the House Committee on Natural Resources in 2011, parks would be closed to public use. “Critical” personnel would be kept in place for resource protection (and to tell people that arrive that they are closed). The National Park Service has informed the Natural Resources Committee that they do not expect to close access to open-entrance park land, such as the National Mall and the GW Parkway.
Can I still go on my scheduled tours of the Capitol Visitors Center or the White House?
It is our understanding that in the event of a Government shutdown, the Capitol Visitors Center will be closed, as will other attractions. Back to top.
Would foreign embassies and Consulates be shut down?
State Department Internal Guidance would likely mirror the FY1996 shutdown, which paired down Embassy/Consulate staffs to essential personnel. While they still would provide some level of American Citizen Services overseas, they would curtail visa processing. Back to top.
Law Enforcement and Federal Assistance
Would FBI agents come off the streets?
Using past shutdown experience as a guide, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform anticipates that FBI agent personnel would be exempt from furlough and thus continue to perform their assigned duties.
Would CIA officers get paid?
Using past shutdown experience as a guide, the Committee on House Oversight and Government Reform concluded in 2011 that CIA officers would be considered excepted employees and required to work during a shutdown.
Do computer operated government systems shut down? Would local law enforcement still have access to Federal databases? Would the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) still be available so that firearm purchases would not be interrupted?
In 2011 it was the understanding of the House Committee on Homeland Security that state and local law enforcement would continue to have access to federal law enforcement databases for homeland security oriented issues and access to the government systems that support them. DHS has not yet provided the Committee specific information on these issues.
Would FEMA and disaster assistance be affected?
CRS informed the House Committee on Homeland Security that disaster assistance would likely not be affected because the Disaster Relief Fund is categorized as “no year money.” DHS has not yet provided the Committee specific information on these issues. According to CRS Report RL34680, emergency and disaster assistance was an excepted activity in FY 1996. Back to top.
Would the passport offices still be open to receive applications/process passports since they are a fee for service operation?
During the mid 1990s shutdown processing was cut back to just emergency passport and visa issuance. Normal passport and visa processing was put on hold.
How would this affect our customs and border patrol? Airport screeners? Air Traffic Controllers? What would happen to U.S. Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexican border?
It was the understanding of the House Committee on Homeland Security in 2011 that CBP agents and TSA screeners would likely be deemed essential personnel and that they would continue to be operational. DHS has not yet provided the Committee specific information on these issues. According to a CRS Report RL34680, though not indicative of future shutdown activities, border and coastal protection and surveillance and the continuance of air traffic control and other transportation safety functions and the protection of transport property was an excepted activity in FY 1996.
Would Amtrak run?
In 2011, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure staff concluded Amtrak would continue to operate. Back to top.
Would patents be affected, including the processing of applications and the review of disputes?
According to the House Committee on the Judiciary in 2011, the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is a fee-funded agency but they have to ask the appropriators for their money back through CJS appropriations (sometimes they receive less than they generate in a given year). PTO has carryover funds that would allow it to operate until its reserve is exhausted. Once their reserves dry up, however, they would have to determine who is “essential” out of a workforce of approximately 10,000 employees. This likely means that at some point they would cease processing patent and trademark applications and all other non-essential activities.
Would project permits be issued?
According to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in 2011, project permits are issued by state DOTs, not FHWA. Those types of projects are funded out of the Surface Authorization extension passed at the beginning of this month and is not tied to the CR. Back to top.