OMB, agencies begin shutdown preparations

With just more than two days until the funding runs out for fiscal 2018, the Office of Management and Budget has begun initial preparations for a partial shutdown.

OMB Press Secretary Meghan Burris said the administration held a call with agency officials on Dec. 1 to discuss plans if Congress doesn’t pass a budget for this year or doesn’t extend the continuing resolution past Dec. 8.

“OMB guidance requires that we convene a call with agencies one week prior to the expiration of appropriations, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent,” Burris said to Federal News Radio. “There is no reason why a lapse in funding needs to occur. Prudent management requires that agencies be prepared for the possibility of a lapse.”

Burris stressed OMB has conducted these calls on a regular basis since 2013, when there was a threat of a lapse in appropriations, including three times before the continuing resolution was set to expire in fiscal 2017.

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Congress partially shut down the government last in 2013 for 16 days. OMB estimated that closure and furlough of 850,000 employees cost the government 6.6 million days of work and more than $2.5 billion in lost productivity and pay and benefits for employees.

President Donald Trump said during a cabinet meeting today that a shutdown “could happen.” The president said the reason for the shutdown could be the Democrats push for a legislative fix for those previously covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before Trump canceled it earlier this year.

Democrats want the fix to be included in legislation to keep the government open past Friday.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters issued a statement later in the day on Wednesday that President Trump is looking forward to the meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tomorrow.

“The administration hopes to find fiscally responsible ways to avoid a government shutdown, address the looming sequester and devastating cuts facing our military, as well as fund important domestic priorities that will encourage economic prosperity and keep Americans safe.  The American people deserve leaders who put their differences aside, and this is an important step in achieving our shared goal of putting America first,” Walters said.

Beyond the call with agencies, the administration doesn’t seem too concerned. Most agencies have not updated their contingency plans. Out of 143, 105 haven’t been updated since 2015.

In all, 27 agencies updated their plans this week, including NASA, the departments of State, Justice and Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration, the Office of Government Ethics, the Peace Corps and the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The State Department’s 48-page contingency plan, for example, told its offices that if they are using multi-year or no-year funding, trust funds or other permanent appropriations, fees or the working capital fund, they can continue as long as they have funding available.

“Please note that due to reduced funding or revised authorities, such availability for FY 2018 may be different than what was in place for the previous lapse in appropriations,” the State Department wrote. “If there is no appropriation or continuing resolution before midnight on Dec. 8, 2017, posts and offices supported by single-year appropriations will immediately commence procedures … on the first business day following that date, i.e., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Posts that normally operate on Saturdays or Sundays will immediately commence procedures … on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.”

Over at HUD, officials updated their 86-page contingency plan, telling employees that 289 out of 7,797 workers would be considered “exempted” or “essential” and would have to work during a shutdown. HUD said another 954 could be recalled on an “intermittent basis to work solely on excepted activities.”

Burris said OMB will continue to update their website as lapse plans come in from the agencies.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Congress continues to work on a short-term funding extension.

The House Rules Committee was originally scheduled on Tuesday to review a continuing resolution that would extend the funding deadline to Dec. 22. But the committee pushed back its hearing one day, and members will review the bill this afternoon.

At the same time, lawmakers and employees unions alike called on Congress to get moving with a full-year spending bill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted lawmakers yesterday for the impact the CRs are having on the military.

“It is unfortunate and unacceptable that we find ourselves nearing the end of the calendar year and still do not have an agreement to fund the government for the current fiscal year. For nearly a decade, the lack of stable, sufficient, and predictable funding has had a devastating impact on our armed forces,” McCain said in a statement. “That is why the congressional leadership and the president, when they meet on Thursday, must finalize a multi-year agreement to raise the budget caps for defense and ensure that our military is sufficiently funded. We need real, predictable growth in order to rebuild our military — as the president has repeatedly called for, our military leaders have consistently asked for, and an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of both sides of Congress has voted to authorize — and we need that growth both this year and next year.”

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) issued a statement encouraging lawmakers to set-aside policy differences and pass a spending bill.

“There are no winners when the government stops functioning,” NTEU president Tony Reardon said in a release. “Taxpayers lose important services, federal employees lose income, the economy suffers and everyone loses faith in our institutions.”

NTEU also urged Congress to approve the Federal Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2017 (S. 861), which would make sure that federal workers who are furloughed or forced to work without pay during the shutdown are compensated fully and quickly when the government re-opens, regardless of the next regularly scheduled pay date.

It would also let those who are required to work during a shutdown take scheduled annual leave and sick leave while the government remains closed.