Shutdown FAQ

Thursday - 12/15/2011, 12:01pm EST

The current short-term budget expires Dec. 16 midnight, sparking talk of a possible government shutdown if Congress fails to reach a budget deal in time.

Below are the answers to your frequently asked furlough questions. The FAQ has been updated from a previous version published prior to the April near-shutdown.

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From OPM's Guidance and Information on Furlough

When would a potential shutdown begin?

The current funding measure expires on Dec. 16 at midnight. If Congress does not reach a budget agreement, a shutdown could occur then.

Who can be furloughed?

Any federal employee considered a "non-excepted employee" is subject to furlough during a shutdown.

"Excepted employees" refers to employees who are excepted from a furlough by law because they are (1) performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, (2) involved in the orderly suspension of agency operations, or (3) performing other functions exempted from the furlough.

Essential activities include:

  • Provide for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property.
  • Provide for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes.
  • Conduct essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property, including:
    • Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care;
    • Activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food and drugs and safe use of hazardous material;
    • The continuance of air traffic control and other transportation safety functions and the protection of transport property;
    • Border and coastal protection and surveillance;
    • Protection of federal lands, buildings, waterways, equipment and other property owned by the United States;
    • Care of prisoners and other persons in the custody of the United States;
    • Law enforcement and criminal investigations;
    • Emergency and disaster assistance;
    • Activities essential to the preservation of the essential elements of the money and banking system of the United States, including borrowing and tax collection activities of the Treasury;
    • Activities that ensure production of power and maintenance of the power distribution system; and
    • Activities necessary to maintain protection of research property.

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."

Will I be paid if I have to work during a shutdown?

According to a 1995 memo from the Office of Management and Budget, "Employees who are closing down operations or who perform excepted activities must report for duty as directed. During an appropriations lapse, they are still in pay status, but are working for delayed pay; they are not rendering free services, and are required to work."

Will I receive back pay?

It's not guaranteed. Congress would have to pass legislation granting federal employees the pay they missed while they were furloughed. This is what has happened in the past.

Can I volunteer to work unpaid during a furlough?

No. Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an individual.

How will employees be notified whether they have been designated to be handling "excepted" or "non-excepted" functions?

Each agency will communicate with its employees regarding the method and timing of notification of whether they have been designated as an excepted or non-excepted employee.

Are all employees who qualify as "emergency employees" for the purpose of weather emergencies considered to be "excepted employees" for the purpose of a shutdown furlough?

Not necessarily. "Emergency employees" are those employees who must report for work in emergency situations-e.g., severe weather conditions, air pollution, power failures, interruption of public transportation, and other situations in which significant numbers of employees are prevented from reporting for work or which require agencies to close all or part of their activities. Emergency employees are not automatically deemed excepted employees for purposes of shutdown furloughs. Each agency must determine which employees are excepted employees.

Am I entitled to unemployment compensation while on furlough?

D.C.-area unemployment resources:

  • District of Columbia

  • Maryland
    The Division of Unemployment Insurance is currently developing special claim filing procedures if there is shutdown of federal government operations. The website will be updated as soon as additional information is available, but no later than Friday afternoon, April 8.

  • Virginia

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