Federal staff start to get furlough notices

The Obama administration on Thursday began telling federal employees they will be furloughed as both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue prepared for a government shutdown that appeared increasingly likely. 

Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeff Zients, the administration’s point man for shutdown plans, said OMB on Thursday had begun the task of telling workers who was essential and who was not. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Those deemed nonessential will be furloughed, and might not be paid until a shutdown ends. The administration on Wednesday had said 800,000 workers could face furloughs. 

Separately, OMB Director Jack Lew on Thursday afternoon began officially informing federal agencies of what they can and cannot do if the government shuts down for the first time since 1996. 

On Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats alike prepared their staffs for possible furloughs. 

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), a senior member of the House Budget Committee, talked to her chief of staff Thursday about how her office would handle scheduled tours of the Capitol building for constituents. 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said earlier Thursday that the House would stay in session throughout the weekend and until a deal on a government-funding measure is done. 

If the House remains in session, congressional staffers in personal offices and on committees who are deemed essential would be required to work. But they wouldn’t be paid. 

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced a bill Thursday night to ensure all federal employees receive retroactive pay for the duration of a government shutdown, regardless of individual furlough status. Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.) is the Republican co-sponsor.

Employees deemed not essential would be furloughed after Friday, when the measure funding the government is set to expire. 

Zients, who spoke with reporters just down a hallway from where President Obama was negotiating with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), ticked off a list of services that would cease at midnight Friday if Democrats and Republicans fail to reach an agreement on a deal that would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. 

He said members of the military will continue fighting the country’s wars, but they will not be receiving paychecks after Friday.

“They will continue to earn their money, but they will not receive paychecks,” Zients said.

The House approved a bill on Thursday that would fund the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year and extend funding for the entire government for a week, but Obama promised to veto the measure. Democrats objected to spending cuts in the bill, as well as policy language they said was unrelated to the fight over 2011 spending.

National parks, forests and museums will close, Zients said, and only emergency passport services will remain open. 

The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center will not take new patients, and no new clinical trials will start, he said. Four hundred IRS walk-in services across the country will close just as many file their tax returns. 

Permits and other approvals will not be processed, including those that allow building projects to proceed, Zients said. Most veteran-benefits customer support services will be suspended. 

White House staff also would be scaled back significantly, Zients said, with a number of political appointees joining federal workers in being furloughed.

Zients said OMB has been planning for a possible shutdown for weeks, even though it had not told federal employees before this week how a shutdown might affect them. 

“We’re taking these steps because responsible management demands it,” said Zients, who emphasized that the administration is still hopeful a shutdown can be averted.

Congressional leaders were scheduled to meet with Obama again Thursday night in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal. 

Zients said OMB is not giving employees who would be furloughed a worst-case scenario about how long a shutdown could last.

But even a brief shutdown — one that lasts a few days — would have a significant and detrimental effect on the economic recovery, Zients said.

The White House and congressional Democrats have made this point a key part of their messaging fight. They say an economy showing new signs of life would be hurt if the government shuts down. 

Workers who are furloughed seem less likely to receive back-pay. Public employee unions have warned their members that they should not assume that Congress would approve retroactive pay if there is a shutdown.

Personal congressional offices could make up the pay from their budgets, but this would be at each individual member’s discretion, one source said. 

Members of Congress would get paid through a shutdown unless lawmakers approve legislation to suspend their pay. 

Both chambers have passed separate pieces of legislation cutting off lawmaker pay in the event of a shutdown, but a single bill has not advanced through both chambers and been signed by President Obama. 

“We’ll have to take a look at that,” Boehner said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“If Speaker Boehner were really serious about preventing members of Congress from being paid during a government shutdown, he would immediately pass our ‘no budget, no pay’ bill,” responded Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who sponsored the Senate’s congressional pay bill.


More in Regulation

Federal prison task force to start meeting in January

Read more »