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Member Offices Down to the Wire on Shutdown Prep

As Congress teetered on the brink of shutdown Monday evening, members scrambled to submit their lists of who would be deemed “essential” and “nonessential” in the wake of a shutdown.

By 5 p.m., each House office needed to figure out whose primary job responsibilities “directly related to constitutional responsibilities, the protection of human life, or the protection of property.”

All others would be furloughed.

House Administration Committee staff did not to comment on how many questions they had fielded from chiefs of staff wondering how to decide whom to keep around on Tuesday. According to documents published by the committee, the answer would be those staff who are an “integral part of the deliberative and communicative process by which members participate in committee and House proceedings.”

For instance, such a description would include the people who tally votes, draft bills and resolutions, provide parliamentary and legal advice and research and handle technological support.

Sample letters to be sent to essential House employees notified them to continue reporting on a regular schedule, with any scheduled paid time off canceled until further notice.

“We appreciate the difficulty and anxiety this situation creates,” the closing paragraph of the letter states. Retroactive pay is likely, but not guaranteed. House members and their staffs are paid on the final day of every month.

For those on the Senate payroll, Friday is payday and they should be able to account for every dime earned between Sept. 16 and Sept. 30. But the next payday, on Friday, Oct. 18, is less certain.

“We’re not sure how that’s going to work out,” an employee in the Senate Disbursing Office said Monday afternoon. Requests for comment from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the Senate Financial Clerk’s office were not returned.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., deemed the big, blue van that rolls through the Arkansas countryside on behalf of the senator “nonessential.” His office announced that a planned tour would come to a halt Tuesday, and stops at four towns in the southwestern part of the state would be postponed.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer provided employees with an outlook of how the chamber’s services would function during a shutdown late last week, including the Capitol Police. Security would remain at “full operational strength,” but officers outside the doors on Monday said they were still wondering when they would be paid.

Gainer’s executive office will be open from 30 minutes prior to convening to 30 minutes post adjournment. The Senate Employee Assistance Program would be open for emergencies only, while education, training and financial management services would be closed. Human resources would provide limited services and the Senate pages would provide floor support and proctors. Workers’ compensation would be available online only.

Senate doorkeepers would stay on the job, but elevators would be self-service.

Senate support staff would be on hand for computer disasters. The Capitol Exchange and IT Help Desk are available during in-session hours or 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., while IT Security Support will be on call around the clock. Network, telephone, wireless and office equipment support are only available only in case of emergency.

The House Administration Committee warned that information resources would be operating at reduced levels, so there would “likely be delayed responses to tech support requests.”

Those driving work on Tuesday would find four vehicle gates open on the House side, with all other access points closed. Parking lots 1 and 4, plus the Rayburn and Ford garages, would be open only to permit holders.

Only one door would be open to each House Office Building, and access to the House Gallery would be limited.

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