‘Twas the Shutdown Before Christmas

A partial government shutdown is now officially underway. Here are some important things to know regarding pay and agency closures.

Thanks to a stalemate in Congress over border wall funding, a partial government shutdown has ensued just in time for the Christmas weekend.

How Long Will It Last?

That is anybody’s guess. President Trump said in a tweet yesterday when talking about the potential for a shutdown, “…there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time.” But as a practical matter, nobody knows for certain.

The Senate adjourned Saturday afternoon with no solution to the partial government shutdown and no plans to reconvene until December 27, an indication that Washington is settling into a partial government shutdown for at least a few days.

Which Agencies Close; Which Are Open?

Nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments will shutter, along with dozens of agencies. Those departments are: Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury.

Social Security and annuity payments to federal retirees will still go out as scheduled. Also Medicare payments are not interrupted.

The Thrift Savings Plan will continue its normal operations. See details on the effect non-pay status has on your TSP account.

One of the more noticeable things likely to close are national parks since the Department of Interior is among the impacted agencies.

Defense agencies like the Coast Guard, TSA, and FBI will still be in operation. Also, the Post Office doesn’t close so you will still get mail.

Passports and getting tax information from the IRS are two items that cannot be done as the State Department and IRS services are impacted by a partial shutdown.

Since it’s Christmas, it may be of interest to know that NORAD’s Santa tracker will not be affected by the shutdown and will be fully operational on the big night.

Who Must Work?

Federal employees deemed “essential” or “excepted” will still be required to work but without pay. Almost 90 percent of the Homeland Security staff is deemed essential.

Federal employees deemed “non-excepted” will be furloughed without pay.

According to information compiled by Senator Patrick Leahy’s staff, about 420,000 federal employees deemed essential will have to work without pay, and another 380,000 will be furloughed. Among the essential employees are TSA, Customs and Border Protection and Forest Service firefighters.

Will I Get Paid?

For excepted employees, pay will come once the shutdown ends. As OPM states, “Agencies will incur obligations to pay for services performed by excepted employees during a lapse in appropriations, and those employees will be paid after Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriation or continuing resolution.”

For non-excepted employees, that depends on what Congress does. Generally they are ultimately paid once the shutdown ends given what has happened in more recent shutdowns, but Congress must pass legislation to authorize back pay for the missed days.

This legislation has already been introduced in both the House and Senate, and it has already passed the Senate. It was one vote that took place before adjourning on Friday night. Obviously it has to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law before it’s a done deal.

What About Pay for the Christmas Holiday?

For non-excepted employees, this again depends on what Congress does. According to guidance recently issued by the Office of Management and Budget, “Employees furloughed on a holiday (e.g., December 25) will not be paid for the holiday unless authorized by subsequent legislation.”

Presumably this means that the Christmas Eve holiday will not be affected since it was authorized and enacted via executive order from the president. But Christmas would have to be addressed by Congress.

Excepted employees get holiday pay after the shutdown ends. OMB said, “[I]f the lapse is in effect on a holiday (e.g., the December 25 Christmas holiday), an excepted employee who is required to perform work on the holiday during the employee’s regular hours may earn holiday premium pay; however, payment cannot be made until after the lapse is over.”

What About Your Latest Paycheck?

OMB said that payments for the most recent pay period (the December 9-22 biweekly pay period) will go out as scheduled and should arrive in the December 28 to January 3 time range.

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.