As Congress nears deal, feds prep for shutdown just in case

Wednesday - 12/14/2011, 9:57pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio
@jmooreWFED

(Updated: Dec. 15, 7:45 p.m.)

Even as the clock ticks closer toward a Dec. 16 funding deadline, speculation about a partial government shutdown has mostly cooled.

The point of contention remains two bills before Congress: an extension of the payroll tax cut and an omnibus spending bill, containing funding for most of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year.

However, lawmakers have recently recalibrated their public statement toward optimism that a bill containing fiscal-year 2012 spending for much of the government will pass before the deadline hits.

Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans have netted near-agreement on the omnibus spending bill, but it appears to be held up by the wrangling over the payroll tax cut.

A short-term continuing resolution to stave off a shutdown beyond midnight Friday was bandied about earlier this week, but the indications are now that Congress is set on approving a full omnibus package.

Nevertheless, the threat of a possible partial shutdown has reared its head.

Just in case ...

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday "the deal is not done," and that differences between the House and Senate on the spending bill still have to be worked out.

"They are resolvable, no question," he added. "There's no need to shut down the government. There is time to get all of it done."

The Office of Management and Budget has also begun gearing up for a possible shutdown, although Carney cited that as mostly a procedural step.

"The necessary actions are being taken ... and that's just out of an abundance of caution, and it's basically just a requirement when we get this close to a shutdown," Carney added. "There is no reason to get there. There's just no reason."

Updating plans, informing employees

OMB has begun collecting and posting agency contingency plans on its website.

Many of the plans date to April — the last time the government came seriously close to being shuttered. However, some of the plans, such as those for the Health and Human Services Department and the Treasury Department, to name just a few, appear to have been updated or retrieved more recently.

OMB also directed agencies to begin sending preliminary emails to their employees Wednesday to alert them of a possible shutdown and even make designations about what employees are "excepted" from any possible shutdown.

Meanwhile, the Office of Personnel Management updated updated its website to provide information about a possible "shutdown furlough" and the "potential impact of a lapse of appropriations on federal employees."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius emailed staff Wednesday, saying the President has said he does not want a shutdown. She added, "Given the realities of the calendar, however, prudent management requires that we plan for an orderly shutdown should Congress fail to complete its work or to pass another short‐term continuing resolution that would give it more time to take up these important matters."

The Treasury Department has also emailed IRS staff saying there is no guarantee Congress will reach a budget deal in time. If there is a shutdown, IRS managers will notify employees no later than Friday with a formal notice no later than Monday of their furlough status, according to the email.

If the government is shuttered, Congress will decide later whether to authorize back pay for those furloughed.

Some agencies not affected

A partial shutdown would not affect federal workers or operations at the following departments and agencies:

  • Agriculture Department
  • Commerce Department
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Housing and Urban Development Department
  • Justice Department
  • NASA
  • National Science Foundation
Funding for those agencies was approved last month in a separate spending bill, known as a "minibus."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report).

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