Federal Agencies Detail Impacts Of Government Shutdown With Deadline Fast Approaching

More than 1.3 million active-duty military members and thousands of air traffic controllers and TSA agents will have to work without pay during a government shutdown, a prospect that looks increasingly likely with Congress running out of time to approve new funding.

Friday, September 29th 2023, 5:31 am

By: CBS News


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More than 1.3 million active-duty military members and thousands of air traffic controllers and TSA agents will have to work without pay during a government shutdown, a prospect that looks increasingly likely with Congress running out of time to approve new funding.

Both the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a lapse in funding would severely hamper key government functions and could cause lengthy delays at airports. The White House has warned that active-duty service members could have their pay delayed in the event of a shutdown, even if it lasts just a few days.

The Defense Department was not subject to the last shutdown in 2018 and 2019, since Congress passed and President Trump signed the Defense Appropriations Act two days before the end of the fiscal year. In 2013, Congress passed a one-off law just before the shutdown that ensured service members would be paid. Some lawmakers have introduced legislation to pay the military in the event of a shutdown now, but the clock is ticking ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline.

The impacts of a government shutdown

All departments are required to maintain contingency plans in the event of a shutdown, and the White House lists of dozen of the most up-to-date versions on its website. Agencies are expected to issue specific guidance by the end of the week. While the shutdown would technically begin early Sunday morning, most of those plans wouldn't begin to be fully implemented until Monday, the next business day.

On Thursday, DHS said nearly 72% of its massive workforce, or roughly 185,000 employees, would be kept on the job but not get paid until new spending is approved. Those affected would include Border Patrol agents, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, law enforcement agents, Transportation Security Administration workers and customs agents.

"As the third largest department of the federal government, DHS is home to hundreds of thousands of hard-working individuals devoted to public service," the department said in a fact sheet. "A shutdown would affect every member of the DHS community in some way, putting a strain on our team members' ability to make ends meet, put food on the table, and more."

TSA agents are among the lowest-paid federal employees, and most are required to keep working during a shutdown. Towards the end of the last funding lapse in 2019, agents began calling in sick en masse, causing wait times at checkpoints to jump over an hour at several major airports. The demonstration was credited with pressuring lawmakers and the White House to end the stand-off.

In the event of a shutdown this time around, TSA employees would get their last paycheck during the second week of October, but it would be half of their normal pay.

Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said a lapse in government funding would force the department to furlough hundreds of workers training to be air traffic controllers.

"After everything that we have been through, after all of the disruptions to air travel, especially the ones that we saw last year, we have finally seen cancellations and delays get back down to normal levels," he said at a press conference on Wednesday. "A shutdown would stop all of that progress. It would mean we would immediately have to stop training new air traffic controllers and furlough another 1,000 controllers who are already in the training pipeline."

Buttigieg said the "complexity of the hiring process" means that even a relatively short shutdown of just a few days could cause the department to miss its hiring goals for next year.

Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, told CBS News that only 28 of the independent agency's 433 employees will keep working during a shutdown. Those 28 include director-level employees and board members. The remaining workers will be furloughed, including accident investigators.

Federal law says employees who are in non-essential roles are prohibited from working during a lapse in government funding. Those whose absence would endanger life or property, or whose responsibilities derive from the Constitution, are allowed to keep working. But all employees of agencies that run out of funding see their paychecks delayed, which can cause significant hardship for lower-wage workers if a shutdown drags on too long.

The impact on government contractors can be even more severe. Government agencies hire outside firms to handle an untold number of tasks, including low-wage work like office cleaning and food service. Even a short funding lapse can present myriad issues, including the delay of payments to those contractors. And unlike federal employees, contractors are not guaranteed back pay once a shutdown is over, leaving thousands in a precarious financial position.

Will the government shut down?

Lawmakers still appear far apart on any deal to keep the government open when funding expires at 12 a.m. Sunday, the start of the new fiscal year. Both chambers are working on their own versions of stopgap measures that would provide funding for a limited amount of time. Known as a continuing resolution, this legislation would in theory give lawmakers more time to reach a deal on overall spending levels.

The Senate is pursuing a bipartisan bill to extend current funding, but it includes billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, making it a nonstarter among many Republicans in the House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy is working to pass his own short-term bill that cuts spending and plans to bring that legislation to the House floor on Friday, but he has struggled to win over a small number of holdouts who oppose any extension of funding.

McCarthy is now also demanding billions of dollars in new spending to beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border, where an increase in migrant crossings in recent weeks has strained the government's ability to respond.

There were hints of an emerging outline of a deal on Thursday, one which might include some spending for the border in a continuing resolution to keep the government open. While noting that Ukraine aid is "not going to play" in the House, McCarthy hinted that some Senate Democrats might support more border funding.

"I'm talking to Senate Democrats even this morning that want to do something on the border. I've got Democrats who came to me on the floor last night saying, 'We want to do something on the border,'" he said. "To me, that is the place where I think we can get a stopgap bill."

Kris Van Cleave, Kathryn Krupnick and Jacqueline Kalil contributed reporting.

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