Angst About Shutdown Grows for Personnel
The prospect of a government shutdown looms closer by the day, but Congressional support agencies and their committees of jurisdiction have yet to issue public directives to Members and employees about what to do in the event that a funding deal isn’t reached.
House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said Wednesday that his staff has been researching and conducting meetings in private on the subject for weeks, looking into whether cafeterias, subways and other Congressional amenities should keep their doors open and how Members should staff their offices.
But he said no public guidelines have been released out of trepidation that they will be misinterpreted.
“Once we have a final operating procedure, we’ll make it known to people, but I don’t want to alarm people or to unnecessarily suggest that I’m working for, or anyone is working for, a government shutdown,” the California Republican said. “I’m still going to work under the proposition that we’re going to get our act together and we won’t have a government shutdown.”
The government is operating under a continuing resolution that expires April 8, and House and Senate leaders are working behind closed doors to forge a budget compromise.
Lungren said he has no timeline by which he hopes to disseminate information.
But freshman Rep. Rich Nugent, a member of the House Administration panel, said Wednesday that he is seeking a meeting with Lungren to urge him to solidify some kind of instructions by the end of the week and release them as soon as possible after that.
“Whether it’s us or leadership, someone needs to come up with a definitive answer with regards to what’s going to be affected and how it’s going to be affected,” the Florida Republican said. “We need to get something out so everybody’s singing off the same page, so we all know what’s going on, so you don’t have someone over here in right field saying something that is not true.”
Nugent said he has been doing research on his own and has asked the Congressional Research Service to illuminate the procedures that his office should take in the event of a shutdown. Members with whom he has spoken, especially other freshmen, are misinformed about what exactly their duties are as employers if a budget deal is not reached, he said.
Thousands of Congressional staffers and employees of the support agencies are similarly in the dark about what would happen if the CR expires.
Staffers said they are anxious about whether they would be called in to work and receive a late paycheck or be furloughed and miss their wages altogether.
“Certainly it’s a concern for me as a staffer, as I’m sure it is for everyone,” one Democratic employee said. “People depend on their salaries to be able to meet their obligations.”
At the agency level, union representatives were trying to figure out Wednesday who exactly would be called into work and who would be sent home.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said the one office that he has spoken with is that of the Clerk of the House. The Florida Republican said he was told the Clerk is working on a contingency plan in the event of a shutdown, though he said he doesn’t know the specifics.
Of course, as an office with mostly legislative duties, at least some of the Clerk’s employees would likely remain to aid legislative floor activity.
But the same is not true for an agency such as the Architect of the Capitol. Bill Blevins, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 121, said he is trying to protect his 60 AOC construction electricians, who work for hourly wages under the Dome maintaining security systems and lighting, among other things.
He said he has been told that some projects for which money has already been appropriated will carry on, but some work would grind to a halt. Blevins said he hopes to meet with management today get a clearer picture.
The political branch of his organization has told him to bank on a shutdown, Blevins said.
The Government Printing Office has been more forthcoming, he said, informing him that the eight union electricians employed there would likely work on a rotating schedule — four per shift each weekday — and would be paid an accordingly abridged rate.
Saul Schneiderman, president of the Library of Congress chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he met with Library management Wednesday to talk about a shutdown.
“They wanted to hear what we had to say in the event we had some points that they hadn’t thought of,” he said. “We were just going through different scenarios. They didn’t provide us with any information or a list of employees [who would be furloughed], but I’m sure they’re working on that.”