Shutdown has different scenarios

Thursday - 2/24/2011, 2:31pm EST

By John Buckner
Federal News Radio

Shutdown veterans warn that our current budget situation could lead to a few different outcomes.

A soft shutdown of government could take place if Congress comes to a last minute decision on passing a budget for March 4.

"There are two kinds of shutdowns. One is a soft shutdown in which the President anticipates that they will be able to come to an agreement quickly with Congress, within the next 24 hours or so, but the money is not technically available at the time the work day starts," said John Cooney, executive vice president of the the Professional Services Council, who served as OMB's general counsel during the 1995 shutdown and who now works as an attorney with Venable, LLP. Cooney spoke about the implications of a government shutdown Wednesday at a conference sponsored by PSC.

A soft shutdown, has opposed to a hard shutdown, would allow employees to report to work and wait for the go-ahead from the President to resume operations.

Cooney said that workers would be prohibited from providing any goods or services. Instead, they could use their time to clean their desks and get things ready for when the appropriations are finalized.

If no resolution is solid before March 4, the President will either give agencies a soft shutdown or a hard shutdown.

A hard shutdown is the typical idea of what would happen if no budget were decided on before March 4, leading to furloughs.

"The consultation mechanism, the notification system will be much like one used in a snow storm. There will be notices posted on the Internet for the agencies to tell employees who are not accepted, to not come in that day," Cooney said.

Since it is precautionary measure, if no funds are allocated, workers would then be sent home and begin a hard shutdown until further notice.

While a shutdown is not on the agenda for any agency, plans must be in place to facilitate the possibility. A soft shutdown is just another aspect of the protocol.

"The goal of the soft shutdown is to bring people in [to work] thinking that sometime in the course of the day, appropriations will be available, the light will be turned back on and those employees can resume productive work, Cooney said. "So it's a cost-saving device intended to reduce the dead-weight-loss to the public, if and when during the course of the day funding becomes available."

John Buckner is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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