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What happens if the government shuts down

What happens if the government shuts down
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Federal agencies are bracing for a government shutdown as Congress fights to reach a short-term spending deal before funding runs out at midnight on Friday.

Government shutdowns are rare, especially when one party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. The last shutdown was in 2013 and lasted 17 days. 

If a shutdown happens, many major federal responsibilities, like sending Social Security checks and operating the military, would continue. Each federal agency has a shutdown plan, written in consultation with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the administration would have some wiggle room in what it does. 

In general, government operations and employees deemed “essential,” like those in the military and law enforcement, would continue to report to work. It’s a label that applies to more than half of the 2.1 million or so non-postal federal employees.

Those workers would still get paid, but not until after the shutdown ends. 

During the 2013 shutdown, 850,000 individuals were furloughed per day, according to the OMB.

Employees in “non-essential” government functions, meanwhile, would stay home and actually be prohibited from showing up. Congress acted to pay those employees after previous shutdowns, but pay is not guaranteed.

Some government programs, such as Social Security payments, are not subject to the appropriations process. Those would continue, though some functions, like processing new Social Security applications, would shut down.

In 2013, federal permitting and environmental reviews were put on hold, along with the processing of import and export license applications and federal loans for small business, families and rural communities. According to the OMB, the shutdown also delayed almost $4 billion in tax refunds. 

Here’s how some federal agencies plan to weather a shutdown: 

Health and Human Services  

HHS would have to put about half of its 82,000 staff on furlough.

Larger programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and disability insurance would be largely unaffected by a government shutdown, and current beneficiaries would continue to receive their benefits. 

But processing new applications for these programs could slow because there would be fewer employees around to do them. 

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A government shutdown would be bad for funding the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The short-term spending bill Republicans hope to pass to avoid a shutdown would have funded CHIP for six years. If the bill doesn't pass, some states could run out of funding as soon as Friday. 

Agencies under HHS, like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would also take a hit.

The FDA would have to cancel the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities, including routine food safety inspections. The CDC, meanwhile, would be unable to support its annual seasonal flu program during one of the most severe flu outbreaks in recent history and could stop tracking disease outbreaks. 

The National Institutes of Health would continue patient care for current cancer patients but would not admit new patients or accept new grant proposals.

National Park Service 

The national parks became a lightning rod in the 2013 government shutdown. Parks around the country were closed, and many, including some areas of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that are managed by the Park Service, were barricaded.

The Trump administration may be able to avoid that scenario. The Washington Post reported that administration officials are exploring ways to keep parks open and let visitors come in. 

“In the event of a shutdown, national parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement.

“Visitors who come to our nation’s capital will find war memorials and open air parks open to the public. Nationally, many of our national parks, refuges and other public lands will still allow limited access wherever possible.”

Other Interior Department activities would have to shut down. The Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, for example, would not process oil-drilling permits.

Department of Defense 

At the Pentagon, military personnel should expect to show up to work during a shutdown, but not expect any pay for the duration.

“No one gets paid. The civilians who report to duty do not get paid. The military who are in theater do not get paid. They earn the rights to the payment, but the payment cannot be made until the shutdown is over,” Defense Department Comptroller David Norquist told reporters last month.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Dec. 7, then ahead of a possible shutdown, Norquist said civilians should also expect to show up for work if their job falls under “excepted activities,” positions related to the protection of life and property.

The fiscal halt also extends to the death benefits received by families of military members killed in the line of duty. Weapons system maintenance and readiness training, meanwhile, would also come to a stop unless it is deemed an “excepted activity.”

State Department

Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Thursday that officials were developing contingency plans, while Secretary Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Trump administration rigging the game, and your retirement fund could be the loser Haley’s exit sends shockwaves through Washington MORE's office was reviewing the agency's options.

"We will be prepared for all contingencies, I want to make that clear, including the possibility of a lapse," Nauert said at a press briefing, noting that Tillerson would ultimately have discretion over how the department deals with a shutdown.

Most Americans only come in contact with the State Department when trying to obtain or renew passports. In 2013, however, passport offices, which are funded by fee revenue, remained open. 

Internal Revenue Service

A large percentage of the IRS's workforce is expected to stop working during a shutdown, though the upcoming filing season may mean that more employees are still working than otherwise would be the case.

The IRS's document for non-filing season shutdowns states that only about 13 percent of employees would continue working. While the 2018 filing season officially opens on Jan. 29, the document describes the filing season period as Jan. 1 through April 30. 

The document notes that "historically, more exempted employees are required during the filing season to ensure activities related to executing the filing season are worked." 

IRS activities that continue during the filing season include testing of filing-season programs, processing of paper tax returns and design and printing of tax year forms.

Financial regulation

A government shutdown would halt most of the federal government’s oversight of financial trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) would both be forced to furlough thousands of workers responsible for monitoring financial markets. Only SEC and CFTC staffers involved in law enforcement activities or protecting “life or property” would continue working.

All other regulatory and supervisory function of the Wall Street watchdog would pause until Congress funds the government again.

Other financial sector regulators won’t be affected by a shutdown. The Federal Reserve system, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are all independently funded and would continue their oversight of the banking system. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Credit Union Administration are also independently funded and would stay open during the crisis.

Federal Communications Commission

Like other agencies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon as well as broadcasters, would roll back its staff to essential employees only, furloughing the vast majority of its 1,492 employees. 

The agency says it expects to retain roughly 37 employees during the shutdown to cover essential matters like critical IT issues, protect property and handle emergency communications and functions related to national security.

The FCC would keep an additional 185 employees whose pay does not come from congressional appropriations to keep the agency’s spectrum auction activities up and running.

The agency’s chairman and four commissioners would also continue to work through the shutdown.

In the interim, the agency would cease some operations, including issuing new broadcast licenses and processing equipment certifications for new electronic devices.

Courts

The Supreme Court would not only remain open to visitors but carry on with business as usual in the event of a shutdown. 

“In the event of a lapse of appropriations, the Court will continue to conduct its normal operations, and the Court building will be open to the public during its usual hours,” Kathleen Arberg, the court’s public information officer, said in a statement to The Hill. 

“The Court will rely on non-appropriated funds, as it has in the past, to maintain operations through the duration of short-term lapses of appropriations.”

Federal district, appeals and bankruptcy courts across the country will also remain open, relying on court fees and appropriations that aren’t tied to a specific year.

“The judiciary is able to sustain paid operations through court fees and no-year appropriations for approximately three weeks, or through Feb. 9,” Charles Hall, a spokesman in the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said in an email.

Department of Justice

If there is a government shutdown, the 114,647 employees at the Justice Department as of Sept. 8 would drop to 95,102 for the first five calendar days. The rest of the workers would be furloughed, according to the agency’s latest contingency plan. 

Because the Justice Department is comprised of about 40 components tasked with a broad array of national security, law enforcement and criminal justice system responsibilities, the agency said that it has a high percentage of activities and employees that can continue working during a lapse in appropriations. 

Capitol Hill

The Capitol would become a ghost town during a shutdown, offering a regular reminder to lawmakers of the consequences.

Fewer Capitol police officers would report for duty, while those working would do so without pay. Only "essential" staff would be required to work, making it harder for offices to handle the sudden flood of constituent phone calls.

Most committee activity would be suspended, as would Capitol tours. 

Depending on the length of the shutdown, senators would be forced to walk past a frozen clock in a hallway outside the chamber — the staff responsible for winding it would be furloughed, too. In 2013, the clock's hands were stuck at 12:14 for days until the government reopened.

Mueller investigation

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election would continue, since its funding does not come from annual appropriations. 

Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian museums along the National Mall and the National Zoo will remain open through the weekend, the institution said Thursday.

But if the shutdown extends to Monday, all of its public facilities, including the popular web cameras that broadcast animals at the zoo, would have to close. Many of the behind-the-scenes operations, such as feeding animals, have been deemed essential and would continue.

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration will continue operations in the event of a government closure, according to one official, with security functions and air marshals still in place.

Federal Aviation Administration

The government shutdown is not expected to delay flights or have an impact on the airline industry. Air traffic control, which is run by the Federal Aviation Administration, would still operate, while most of the agency's aviation safety inspectors would keep working.

Jessie Hellmann, Ali Breland, Mallory Shelbourne, Melanie Zanona, Ellen Mitchell, Sylvan Lane, Naomi Jagoda and Cristina Marcos contributed.