EPA, Energy Department intend to stay open past shutdown deadline

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With the deadline to avert a government shutdown coming down to the wire, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced its plans to stay open through next week, even if Congress fails to pass a stopgap spending bill.

In a memo to employees Friday afternoon, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the agency intends to stay open one week past a lapse in federal appropriations, and told employees to report to work next week, even if the rest of the government shuts down.

“At this time EPA has sufficient resources to remain open for a limited amount of time in the event of a government shutdown. All EPA employees should follow their normal work schedule for the week of January 22, 2018,” Pruitt wrote in a memo obtained by Federal News Radio.

The EPA’s attempts to forestall agency furloughs reflect a larger effort from the Trump administration to minimize the public impact of a government shutdown, should Congress miss tonight’s midnight deadline to pass a continuing resolution.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters earlier Friday that his agency plans to handle a government shutdown differently than the Obama administration did in 2013. For instance, Mulvaney said the Trump administration intends to keep national parks open.

In his memo to employees, Pruitt said if a government shutdown lasts longer than next week, the EPA would have to make a new determination about its operating status. The memo also says all employee travel must be approved by Pruitt’s office.

“Should the shutdown occur and remain in place through January 26, 2018, we will provide further updates on the agency’s operating status,” Pruitt wrote.

The EPA’s director of labor relations also held a call with union leadership this afternoon, according to John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents EPA employees.

O’Grady told Federal News Radio that during the call, EPA Director of Labor Relations Krysti Corbett told labor leaders that the agency would be using carry-over funds to remain open for the first week of a government shutdown. Corbett did not immediately return phone calls from Federal News Radio requesting comment.

“This is a very different approach from shutdowns in the past. For example, annual and sick leave is not being canceled,” O’Grady said in an email to Federal News Radio.

The week-long reprieve would be a significant departure from the EPA’s shutdown contingency plan, which was last updated in December 2017.

According to that plan, the EPA would furlough more than 94 percent of its 14,449 employees. The agency’s emergency “exempted” employees include Superfund cleanup workers, laboratory workers and emergency response readiness workers.

However, the contingency plan does include a caveat for carry-over funds.

“In the event of a funding hiatus due to the lack of an appropriations act or a continuing resolution, the Agency will assess the availability of unexpired multiple and no-year appropriations as well as funds available from other sources,” the EPA’s shutdown plan states.

Energy, State departments tell workers to report Monday

Meanwhile, the Energy Department has received guidance from OMB that its workforce of nearly 15,000 employees should report to work next week as normally scheduled, even in the event of a shutdown.

“All DoE federal employees are expected to report to work on your next scheduled work day and subsequent work days unless you have previously approved leave or are given formal notice by your management not to report to work,” OMB stated in a memo that Federal News Radio obtained. “Similarly, contractors should continue to execute on contracts unless and until otherwise notified.”

A State Department spokesperson said Friday evening that all agency employees should also plan on working next week.

“All employees should report to work on Monday morning, January 22, 2018.  Further instructions will be provided at that time,” the spokesperson told Federal News Radio.

The State Department, along with 38 other federal agencies, updated their shutdown contingency plans Friday.

“OMB has requested all agencies to determine ways to minimize the impact of the lapse on the American people. That is exactly what we are doing here at the State Department,” the spokesperson said.