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VERIFY: How a shutdown would impact federal workers, contractors, and agencies like the CDC and FDA

The Verify team looked into how a federal shutdown would impact major agencies like the CDC, NIH, and FDA, as well as their many employees.

WASHINGTON — Another government shutdown may be looming. Congress needs to pass a spending bill by midnight, heading into Friday morning, in order to avoid the crisis.

As the clock ticks closer to this deadline, the Verify team explores possible impacts on federal workers, as well as those in the nation's capital.



Would a government shutdown impact federal workers?


Yes, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would face furloughs. Many others would be forced to work without getting paid.


In past shutdowns, there have been as high as 850,000 furloughed workers, according to The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“A full shutdown would likely be similar to recent ones in 2013 and early 2018 when approximately 850,000 out of 2.1 million non-postal federal employees were furloughed,” the CRFB wrote on their website.

During a shutdown, furloughed employees are not allowed to work and are not paid. Legislation passed in 2019 guarantees that they will receive back pay.

“Essential” employees will continue to work during a government shutdown, although they will not be paid until after the shutdown is over. Marc Goldwein from the Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget said shutdowns are 'disruptive,' even when essential personnel is forced to keep working. 

"Even if we really keep all the essential workers," he said. "The fact that they won't have all the support staff could still slow things down." 

Federal contractors are not quite as fortunate, as they historically have not been paid back. 


 Will the D.C. Government shut down?


No. According to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s sole representative in Congress, a provision has already been approved that would provide funding to the district in the case of a federal shutdown. 


As a possible shutdown nears, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement, highlighting the fact that D.C. will not face a local shutdown. 

"With the possibility of a federal government shutdown on Friday, the start of fiscal year (FY) 2022," the statement reads. "Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today reminded District of Columbia residents that a provision she got included in the FY 2021 D.C. Appropriations bill exempts the D.C. government from a federal government shutdown in FY 2022. Norton has gotten the D.C. government exempted from federal government shutdowns each year since FY 2015."

This is confirmed by a Congressional Research Service report, which reads in part as follows: 

"(The bill) also approved the expenditure of DC local funds as outlined in the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request Act of 2020, Additionally, the act included a provision allowing the use of DC government local funds in the event of any potential federal government shutdown in FY20. A similar provision has been included in all appropriations bills since FY2013."


Would a shutdown impact federal agencies that are combating the pandemic, such as the CDC, the FDA, and NIH? 


Yes. According to a contingency plan created by The Department of Health and Human Services, there would be approximately 36,750 furloughed workers, which is about 45 percent of the workforce. 


The contingency plan breaks down the HHS plan, in the case of a government shutdown. According to this document, the department is projected to retain approximately 45,646 staffers and furlough 36,750 staff as of "day two of a funding hiatus." 

"Put another way, more than 55 percent of HHS employees will be retained and 45 percent will be furloughed," the contingency plan read. 

According to the contingency plan, 'operating divisions with a substantial direct service component,' will not be furloughed. 

"For example, the NIH Clinical Center will continue to care for patients and admit new patients for who it is medically necessary. FDA will continue core functions to handle and respond to emergencies..." 

According to the contingency plan, the following furloughs are expected for key public health agencies: 

  • The CDC will retain 5,160 (38%) of its staff. This means roughly 62 percent of their staff will be furloughed. 
  • The FDA will retain 12,056 (70%) of its staff. This means roughly 30% of their staff will be furloughed
  • The NIH will retain 4,708 (25%) of its staff. This means roughly 75% of their staff will be furloughed. 

The contingency read as follows, under a section titled 'Safety of Human Life -- Activities Other Than Direct Medical Services"

"Staff will be excepted to support vital activities to respond to COVID-19 and other public health and natural emergencies, manage high-risk recalls, pursue criminal enforcement work and civil investigations related to imminent threats to human health or life, review import entries to determine potential risks to health, conduct for-cause inspections of regulated facilities, conduct surveillance of adverse events reports for issues that could cause human harm, and other critical public health issues, as appropriate. These staff will also be responsible for efforts to continue to address other critical public health challenges, including drug shortages, and outbreaks related to foodborne illness and infectious diseases."

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