DHS shutdown grows more likely

 

 

The chances of a shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security are growing by the day, with congressional leaders at a stalemate over legislation that would provide funding after Feb. 27.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has warned that a lapse in funding would cause a “terrible disruption,” while White House officials have accused congressional Republicans of putting national security at risk.

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"A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security in these times is frankly too bitter to contemplate, but we have to contemplate it," Johnson told reporters this week. "It is horribly unfair to ask people in the critical role of Homeland Security to come to work and not get paid because Congress can’t fund the department.”

Republicans are using the funding measure as leverage to try to roll back the president’s executive actions on immigration, with some arguing that the administration is overstating the impact of a shutdown at DHS.

Most of the department’s employees will still be required to report to work in a shutdown, the Republicans note, minimizing the impact on crucial security functions.

With Senate Democrats blocking a DHS funding measure from the House, and conservatives pushing to hold the line, the path forward for lawmakers is unclear.

Here’s a breakdown of what would and wouldn’t happen if DHS were to shut down.

FURLOUGHS AND WORKING WITHOUT PAY

Of the more than 230,000 employees who work for DHS, the vast majority — around 200,000 — would continue to work, but without paychecks.

The “essential” employees who would remain on the job include the department’s 40,000 border patrol and customs officers, 50,000 TSA screeners, 13,000 immigration law enforcement officers, 40,000 active duty Coast Guard members, and 4,000 Secret Service agents. 

Those workers would be nearly certain to be paid eventually, as lawmakers have routinely approved retroactive compensation after other government shutdowns.

But a shutdown could deal a blow to department morale, which is an especially delicate question at DHS. Surveys from the Office of Personnel Management consistently show that the department ranks dead last when employees are asked if they intend to remain working there.

The remaining 30,000 employees — primarily DHS headquarters and administrative staff — would be furloughed during the shutdown, and not allowed to report to work.

“The bulk of DHS management and headquarters administrative support activities would cease, including much of the homeland security infrastructure that was built following the 9/11 terrorist attacks to improve command, control and coordination of frontline activities,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said.

A shutdown would also keep the department from hiring and training new employees, which would prevent the government from filling vacancies.

SUSPENSION OF GRANT MONEY, TRAINING

Many state and local law enforcement and emergency agencies rely on federal grants facilitated through DHS for hiring new employees and purchasing new equipment. But under a shutdown, all non-disaster related grant programs would be suspended.

According to documents obtained by the Washington Post, the department gave some $31 billion in grants between 2003 and 2010, including $3.8 billion in 2010 alone. 

And DHS would not operate federal law enforcement training centers under a shutdown.

In recent weeks, Johnson has sent letters to local sheriffs warning their grant money could evaporate with a funding lapse, in an effort to rally political momentum behind a deal. 

IMMIGRATION PROGRAMS

Nearly every program under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would remain operational during a shutdown, since the agency is primarily funded through fees. That includes the adjudication of asylum claims, issuing visas for temporary workers and the naturalization process.

In an ironic twist, a funding lapse at DHS would not stop the Obama immigration programs that Republicans are fighting to stop. Because the programs offering deportation relief and work permits to certain illegal immigrants are funded through fees, they’d continue even in a shutdown.

The one immigration program that would not continue is E-Verify, the federal program that allows employers to voluntarily determine the work eligibility of prospective employees. E-Verify is free to employers, and funded through annual appropriations.

FEE-BASED PROGRAMS

A number of less prominent DHS programs, funded through fee revenues or multi-year appropriations, would continue to operate during a shutdown.

They include the Federal Protective Service, which patrols federal buildings, and a series of disaster relief programs under FEMA, including disaster relief operations and the National Flood Insurance Program.

DHS employees working on cybersecurity and at hubs established around the country to share intelligence information would be expected to show up for work, but risk going without pay. The BioWatch early warning system, which is designed to detect the release of airborne pathogens in a terror attack, would also remain operational.

But other programs did not remain online during the 2013 shutdown of the entire government, and would likely see similar stoppages if DHS funding runs out.

FEMA, for instance, will no longer provide flood-risk data for local planners and insurance determinations. And civil rights and liberties complaint lines and investigations handled by the department would shut down.

HIDDEN COSTS

A prolonged lapse in appropriations could also increase the costs of government programs due to late- or non-payments on existing contracts. 

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, DHS is susceptible to interest incurred for late payments, discounts lost due to late payments, unplanned travel expenses related to the shutdown, and the costs of turning off and starting back up operational services, like the department’s IT systems.