White House to feds: Prepare for a shutdown

by Braxton Taylor

The Biden administration has begun notifying employees that a government shutdown is looming, taking steps to further plan for a shuttering of agencies just two days before funding is set to lapse. 

While communications throughout government have so far been inconsistent, at least some agencies are reaching out to their workforces to notify them that contingency preparations are underway. In a message to Homeland Security Department employees obtained by Government Executive, Randolph “Tex” Alles, DHS’ deputy secretary for management, told employees they would soon find out whether they are furloughed. He noted that Congress could still act to avoid a shutdown, but said the department must make the “proper preparation” for any outcome. 

“Should we reach this point, you will receive instructions regarding your furlough status, including guidance on if and how to perform your duties during the lapse,” Alles said. “I thank you for your patience, service and dedication as we move through this process.” 

He also reminded employees that all staff, both those excepted and those furloughed, will receive back pay once Congress reopens the government. DHS is set to furlough just 11% of its workforce, one of the lowest rates in the government. Alles’ communication was first reported by The Washington Post

The House and Senate are moving forward with separate stopgap funding measures, though the two chambers remain divided. It is still unclear whether the House has sufficient votes to pass its short-term bill, while House Republican leadership has declared the Senate’s measure—which has broad, bipartisan support in the upper chamber—dead on arrival in its current form. 

DHS’ level of organization is not yet universal across the government. An employee at another agency said some people had begun to hear through informal channels whether they would be furloughed, but had not received any formal communications. 

“Literally zero official guidance or anything,” the employee said. 

An Environmental Protection Agency employee said there have been rumors of the agency using “carry-over” funds to keep offices from shuttering—as it did during a shutdown under the Trump administration—but no official word has come down. In a House hearing Wednesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said a shutdown would have immediate and drastic impacts on the agency. Under its most recent shutdown plan, EPA is set to furlough 93% of its workforce. 

The White House is facing certain obligations under its own shutdown procedures to work with agencies on communicating with employees. Office of Management and Budget guidance requires agencies, in coordination with OMB, to “notify employees of the status of funding” within two business days of a shutdown. 

“It is up to House Republicans to do their jobs and prevent a needless government shutdown that would damage our economy, our communities, and our national security,” an Office of Management and Budget spokesperson said. “In the meantime, prudent planning requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse in funding.”

OMB previously held a call with agency leaders throughout government to go over shutdown scenarios and ensure contingency plans were in place. The White House agency is also responsible for instructing agencies when to tell employees of their status during a shutdown, as well as when to deliver official furlough notices. 

A shutdown, should one occur, would take place Saturday night, meaning most employees would not feel the impact until Monday. Those who normally report to an office would generally be expected to go in that day, Oct. 2, for a few hours to complete “orderly shutdown activities.”



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