WASHINGTON (AP) — Although the government won’t actually close if Congress fails to pass a spending bill by Friday at midnight, there’s plenty that won’t get done if hundreds of thousands of federal employees are barred from working until Washington agrees on a plan.
In the event of a shutdown, U.S. troops will stay at their posts and mail will get delivered, but almost half of the 2 million civilian federal workers would be barred from doing their jobs.
How key parts of the federal government would be affected by a shutdown:
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
A shutdown plan posted on the Treasury Department’s web site shows that nearly 44 percent of the IRS’ 80,565 employees would be exempt from being furloughed during a shutdown. That would mean nearly 45,500 IRS employees would be sent home just as the agency is preparing for the start of the tax filing season and ingesting the sweeping changes made by the new GOP tax law.
The Republican architects of the tax law have promised that millions of working Americans will see heftier paychecks next month, with less money withheld by employers in anticipation of lower income taxes. The IRS recently issued new withholding tables for employers.
But Marcus Owens, who for 10 years headed the IRS division dealing with charities and political organizations, said it’s a “virtual certainty” that the larger paychecks will be delayed if there’s a lengthy government shutdown.
Many of the nearly 115,000 Justice Department employees have national security and public safety responsibilities that allow them working during a shutdown. So will special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election. His office is paid for indefinitely.
The more than 95,000 employees who are “exempted,” include most of the members of the national security division, U.S. attorneys, and most of the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals Service and federal prison employees. Criminal cases will continue, but civil lawsuits will be postponed as long as doing so doesn’t compromise public safety. Most law enforcement training will be canceled, per the department’s contingency plan.
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that while the department has some discretion over how to handle a shutdown, it is taking direction from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.
“We will be prepared for all contingencies, including of a lapse” in funding, Nauert said.
She said that while security for American diplomats overseas wouldn’t be affected, no decisions had yet been made about what services, like visa processing and passports, the State Department would be able to provide during a shutdown. Nor has there been a decision about whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can go ahead with a planned trip to Europe next week if the government shuts down, she said.
U.S. INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES
The workforce at the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies would be pared down significantly, according to a person familiar with contingency procedures.
The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, said employees who are considered essential and have to work will do so with no expectation of a regular paycheck.
While they can be kept on the job, federal workers can’t be paid for days worked during a shutdown. In the past, however, they have been paid retroactively even if they were ordered to stay home.
The Interior Department said that if there is a government shutdown, national parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible. That position is a change from previous shutdowns, when most parks were closed and became high-profile symbols of dysfunction.
Spokeswoman Heather Swifts said the American public — especially veterans who come to the nation’s capital — should find war memorials and open-air parks available to visitors. Swift said many national parks and wildlife refuges nationwide will also be open with limited access when possible.
She said public roads that already open are likely to remain open, although services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds, full-service restrooms and concessions won’t be operating. Backcountry lands and culturally sensitive sites are likely to be restricted or closed, she said.
The Federal Aviation Administration represents the majority — 45,000 — of the Department of Transportation’s more than 58,000 employees. FAA employees in “safety critical” positions would continue to work, including air traffic controllers and most aviation and railroad safety inspectors.
But certification of new aircraft, processing of airport construction grants, registration of planes and issuance of new pilot licenses and medical certificates would stop.
The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, whose operations are mostly paid for out of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, would continue most of their functions. The fund’s revenue comes from federal gas and diesel taxes, which would continue to be collected. But work on issuing new regulations would stop throughout the department and its nine agencies. Federal contractors with money still in the pipeline would also continue to work as long as they don’t require access to federal facilities.
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the agency’s infectious disease chief, said a government shutdown would be disruptive to research and morale at the National Institutes of Health but would not adversely affect patients already in medical studies.
“We still take care of them,” he said of current NIH patients. But other types of research would be seriously harmed, Fauci said.
A shutdown could mean interrupting research that’s been going on for years, Fauci said. The NIH is the government’s primary agency responsible for biomedical and public health research across 27 institutes and centers. Its research ranges from cancer studies to the testing and creation of vaccines.
“You can’t push the pause button on an experiment,” he said.