Legislation Would Require Naming All ‘Nonessential’ Federal Employees in a Shutdown

New legislation would require all federal employees deemed “nonessential” to be named in the event of a government shutdown.

When there is a partial government shutdown, all federal employees who are deemed by the government to be “nonessential” (A.K.A. neither “exempt” nor “excepted”) are furloughed without pay and told to stay home. Legislation introduced this week would require the federal government to name all of these workers.

Introduced by Congressman Ted Budd (R-NC), The Essential Act of 2018 (H.R. 5091) would require each federal agency to submit a report to the Office of Management and Budget that lists every federal employee deemed “nonessential” (and thus furloughed) during a government shutdown along with his or her job description and salary.

To put this in perspective, in the 2013 shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were furloughed according to the Washington Post.

Budd said it’s all about transparency and addressing what he referred to as the “bloated bureaucracy.” The bill’s primary purpose would be to highlight how big the government has gotten over the years.

“It’s irresponsible for Congress to allow government operations to shut down, but in the event this does happen, many federal employees are deemed ‘nonessential’ and are told to stay home,” Budd told the Washington Examiner, who first reported the bill. “The Essential Act would increase government transparency by requiring each federal agency to submit to the Office of Management & Budget the names, salaries and job descriptions of the employees they’ve determined to be ‘non-essential.'”


One common criticism that will often come up when a shutdown looms is with respect to federal employees deemed “nonessential” – people ask if they are categorized as such, why are they even needed?

This seems like a logical question, especially considering that the government continues to function despite the situation being called a “shutdown.” It also is one that was recently addressed by FedSmith.com author Jeff Neal. However, he says it’s based on inaccurate information.

As he wrote about the last shutdown, “There is no category of employees who are deemed ‘nonessential’ in a shutdown. That is not a term of art – it is a just a commonly misused term.”

He went on to say that the more appropriate terms are “exempt,” “excepted,” and “furloughed,” the latter being those who get to go home without pay.

“None of those employee designations are ‘essential’ or ‘nonessential.’ If government got rid of the employees who are furloughed during a shutdown, most agencies would cease to exist in any meaningful way,” wrote Neal.

According to Newsweek, the terms “essential” and “nonessential” were changed to “excepted” and “non-excepted” in 1995, but the previous ones are still the most commonly used.

According to The Office of Personnel Management’s latest shutdown furlough guidance, federal employees who are neither “exempt” nor “excepted” are the ones who are subject to furlough in a shutdown.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.