Feds more pessimistic than a month ago that a shutdown will happen

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Despite cautious optimism from some federal executives and lawmakers, federal employees are more pessimistic than a month ago that a partial shutdown of the government is on the horizon.

A new and exclusive Federal News Radio online survey found almost 70 percent of the more than 1,900 respondents say a partial government shutdown is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to happen on Jan. 20 at midnight.

The current continuing resolution expires in less than 48 hours and Congress remains at a stalemate over a funding bill that would extend 2017 appropriations levels until Feb. 16. The House is expected to vote on a CR tonight, but it’s unclear if they have enought votes necessary for passage. The Senate would then have to approve the House’s bill to keep the government open past Friday.

Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a CR in December to get us to this Jan. 19 deadline.

When Federal News Radio surveyed its readers a month ago, out of 571 respondents, about 48 percent said a shutdown was “very likely” or “somewhat likely.”

“This time I think it is real possibility. No more kicking the can down the road. I am a federal government employee and I have deadlines. Why can’t they be held just as accountable? Chain the door shut and no one leaves until it is all hammered out,”  one federal employee wrote.

Other commenters still are doubtful a shutdown will happen, “Too many false dawns … I won’t believe it until I actually see the shutdown happening.”

At the same time, more federal contractors also are expressing more doubt that Congress will avoid a partial shutdown with 70.4 percent of respondents saying it’s “very likely” or “somewhat likely” this time compared to 58.5 percent a month ago.

Other federal employees are more pragmatic about the situation: “I’ve been a civilian in federal service since 1993 and military 11-plus years before that and this is almost an annual tradition … a tradition I wish we could do without, but a tradition nonetheless … no need to stress over what I can’t control.”

The Office of Management and Budget held a call with agencies on Jan. 12 as required for under Circular A-11. So far, 43 agencies have updated their contingency plans, while three agencies haven’t updated since 2016 and 58 since 2015.

Agencies are preparing beyond contingency plans for a shutdown as well. An Interior Department spokeswoman said while they do not expect a shutdown, “National Parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.”

The spokeswoman said roads or wilderness restrooms will remain open, but anything that requires staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds, full-service restrooms and concessions that require some park staff or assistance will not be operating.

“We are prioritizing access to the most accessible and most iconic areas of parks and public lands. Each park, monument, recreation area, etc. will have different plans in place,” the spokeswoman said.

At the same time, the Pentagon, Coast Guard and other agencies are sounding the alarm bells about how continued CRs are impacting their readiness and mission support.

Almost two-thirds of the survey respondents say their agency is “completely prepared” or “somewhat prepared” for a shutdown, which is about the same as the December survey results.

 

“My agency has provided multiple communications and access to internal as well as OMB and OPM guidance on a possible shutdown,” wrote one respondent.

Another respondent said their agency’s communication has been thorough, “Agency has a full shutdown plan for employees to follow and walk through the process and FAQs.”

As expected, there is frustration with the lack of communication from other agencies. More than 52 percent of the respondents say they haven’t heard anything from their agency in preparation for a possible partial shutdown as of Jan. 17.

One commenter said: “We have heard nothing at my agency as accepted or not accepted [employees]. You’d think they would tell you today so if you so get furloughed, you can sign off important task that will still need be done.”

Another federal employee said: “There has been little talk of a shutdown and any kind of preparations have been kept quiet, updates are not filtering down to all employees.”

Contractors also are in the dark about possible shutdown preparations. More than 80 percent of the respondents say they have not heard anything from their agency customers about what would happen if funding lapses.

“Lame! They should have communicated back-up plans by now. In 2013, we were receiving communication about what a shutdown would mean for us at least two weeks beforehand,” wrote one industry employee.

Another said: “[I] was emailed about how we will be notified.”

Other industry respondents said the threat of a shutdown is old hat by now.

“We know the drill. No government, no billable hours. I thoroughly enjoy playing this game with my income every two months,” the respondent said.

Government and industry respondents said the most likely outcome of this entire shutdown discussion is another continuing resolution, making it the fourth one of fiscal 2018. Still, the 38 percent of the government respondents expect a shutdown between less than a week and more than a week — about 12 percent more than last month’s survey.

Overall, federal employees and contractors continued to express frustration, disgust and fear about the potential partial shutdown.

Several commenters on Federal News Radio’s Facebook page said the fact there is no guarantee of back pay should a shutdown happen is among their biggest fears.

“My husband and I have planned for it. We could both be off. We’ve saved. I realize not everyone is in that position. There were stories last time where Feds had to go to food banks. Feds ARE eligible for unemployment compensation though,” wrote one commenter.

Another said: “How are we supposed to plan and budget when we live CR to CR? This is simply partisanship at its worst. Get it together Congress and Mr. President! Time to do your jobs, like the rest of us!”