Lights out for most, but not for all

A government shutdown would turn off the lights at a slew of federal offices, furloughing workers, closing national parks and locking shut research laboratories across the country. 

All but the most essential functions of government would grind to a halt.

Not all agencies would close their doors, however. Federal programs like Medicare and Social Security that aren’t funded by annual congressional appropriations would keep chugging, and workers deemed necessary to protect lives and property would also stay on the clock.

The shutdown scenarios will take effect if Congress failed to pass a stopgap spending measure by midnight on Monday. 


For the most part, federal agencies are required to develop their own plans for operating in the event of a government shutdown, technically known as a lapse in appropriations. Those plans need to be filed with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  

“Normally, routine, ongoing operational and administrative activities relating to contract or grant administration (including payment processing) cannot continue when there is a lapse in funding,” the OMB said in a guide for agencies distributed in recent weeks.

Any functions necessary in the case of an emergency, though, would continue.

That means that Border Patrol agents would stay on the job, as would airport security screeners and meat inspectors.

Soldiers in the military would also continue carrying out their duty, though all but the minimum number of necessary civilian workers would be furloughed.

“This has been a trying period for DoD personnel across the globe — military, civilian, and contractors alike,” Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAfghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden: 'If they find me, they will kill me' Afghan interpreter who helped extract Biden, other senators in 2008 asks president to save him Democrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance MORE said in a message Monday. “This is an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction from our mission of defending the nation.”

Social Security checks would continue to go out, and ObamaCare implementation would go ahead largely unhindered; those programs are funded through mandatory appropriations that aren’t renewed annually by Congress.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “would continue large portions of [Affordable Care Act] activities, including coordination between Medicaid and the Marketplace, as well as insurance rate reviews, and assessment of a portion of insurance premiums that are used on medical services,” the Health and Human Services Department said in a memo about its shutdown plans.

“In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations,” it added.

The Federal Reserve mostly runs on money it earns from interest on U.S. government securities, so it would stay up and running during a shutdown. So would the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which charge the banks they regulate for their operating budgets, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which gets money from the Fed.

Still, thousands of workers would be kept home, and myriad federal functions would be halted.

At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for instance, just 230 of the agency’s 2,235 workers would be allowed to come in during a government shutdown.

The National Zoo would keep out visitors and turn off its live animal cameras, though workers would continue to feed and care for the animals.

About half of the Department of Health and Human Services’s 78,000 employees would be furloughed, with most of those losses coming from agencies that make grants, like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would have to drop its work to detect and track flu outbreaks. The Food and Drug Administration would have to halt its routine food safety facilities inspections and enforcement actions.

The White House would lose about three-quarters of its employees, and all but about 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 16,000 workers around the country would be sent home.

Those absences, safety advocates warn, could put Americans at risk.

“We would absolutely be concerned about the potential for a bad impact on consumer protections if there is a shutdown,” Ami Gadhia, senior policy counsel at Consumers Union, said.

To a varying extent, the shutdown process will take between a few hours and a week.

Immediately, national parks would close, and all park facilities except those “essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” would be shuttered. Any visitors currently in parks would be told to leave.

Overnight campers, however, would have two days to make new plans. And the service is giving itself four days to entirely shut down the park system.

At the EPA, most activities could be shut down within four hours, though it could take longer to lock and secure research stations and wind down experiments underway. The agency expects that “the vast majority of shutdown activities will be completed in less than five days,” according to a memo released on Friday.

That means the longer a shutdown goes on, the more its effects would start to be felt.

Still, regulators have already begun to plan to minimize the impact of a shutdown.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is calling for derivatives traders to switch to new electronic trading platforms Wednesday, though a shutdown might handicap its ability to force the transition. 

Last week, Chairman Gary Gensler told reporters that workers were aiming to send out letters granting some temporary exemptions to the rule by Monday evening, in the event that a shutdown stops all but 28 of its 680 staffers from coming in Tuesday.