FAQ: How would a government shutdown impact federal workers?
A list of key questions and answers from Washington Post coverage of the likely effects on federal government employees. Live updates: The shutdown showdown
When will I know if I'll be furloughed due to the shutdown?
Federal workers will get an e-mail or phone call from their supervisors by Monday telling them to report for work or remain at home.
Those who would not be working would get a few hours Tuesday morning to come into the office to secure their files, send e-mails and put things in order before signing off. It would be illegal for them to conduct any work until they were called back to their jobs.
Who is "exempt" and who's not?
That's up to individual agencies. A recent OMB memo told them to review plans they made in 2011. The federal government is required by law to maintain functions that:
- provide for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations;
- provide for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year contracts; and
- protect life and property.
Federal managers must review which of their employees would be excepted or exempted and required to come to work, and which would be non-excepted or non-exempted and sent home during a shutdown.
How many workers will be affected?
A government shutdown this week would jeopardize the paychecks of more than 800,000 federal workers who could be told to stay home. The federal government has more than 2 million employees. Those workers who remain on the job as well as active military would be entitled to their salaries, but might not be paid on time.
Will I be paid?
A recent Office of Management and Budget memo says much the same: "Without further specific direction or enactment by Congress, all excepted employees are entitled to receive payment for obligations incurred by their agencies for their performance of excepted work during the period of the appropriations lapse," the memo says. "After appropriations are enacted, payroll centers will pay all excepted employees for time worked."
The OMB memo did not directly address pay for "non-exempt" employees. The OPM guidance says that "Congress will determine whether furloughed employees receive pay for the furlough period."
If I am paid, will my paycheck be on time?
Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, said the administration officials indicated that employees who are required to work would be paid "eventually."
"They can't guarantee [the workers] will be paid on time," Junemann said. "They are pretty comfortable with the statement that everybody who works will be paid eventually." Those furloughed might be paid, but Republicans could move to block that.
If I'm furloughed, why can't I take annual leave or other paid time off instead?
Because that would create a debt obligation to the government not payable under the Antideficiency Act if no appropriation has been made. This includes a requirement to cancel any paid leave that already had been scheduled.
The OPM publication states that employees cannot substitute paid leave for furlough time and that even previously scheduled paid time off must be canceled "because the requirement to furlough supersedes leave and other paid time off rights."
How would a new plan offered by House Republicans affect me?
The new plan, like those Republicans have pushed before, would increase employee contributions to their retirement benefits.
The plan now under discussion apparently is like a bill that Republicans used their House majority to approve in December. Had it passed the Senate, the measure would have required federal workers to pay an additional 5 percent of salary over five years toward their retirement contributions, saving the government about $80 billion.
How is this possible shutdown different from previous ones?
Compared with the shutdowns of the 1990s, many more federal workers are in danger of being furloughed this year, because Congress has not passed a single funding bill. In the past, Congress had passed appropriations bills that funded various large agencies, including the Defense Department, meaning they could continue to operate even if other parts of the government could not.
What if I'm a government contractor?
Contractors said they assumed they would get little notice about whether their employees would go to work or not. And then, they would have to decide -- on a contract by contract basis -- what to do with those workers.
Will I be reimbursed for time missed?
In past shutdowns, federal employees have been reimbursed for time missed, said Alan Chvotkin, counsel at the Professional Services Council, an industry group. But contractors have not fared as well.
"Contractors have never been reimbursed," Chvotkin said. A shutdown has been "just lost revenue, lost salary to those affected."
While there is no law requiring that nonessential employees be compensated if they are ordered off the job, Congress has in the past voted to reimburse their losses once shutdowns ended.
But this go-round could be different. The bitterly divided Congress includes many lawmakers who are unsympathetic to the plight of federal workers and could be loath to help them recoup their money.
Will overseas military operations be affected?
Defense Department spokesman George Little said overseas operations, including those in Afghanistan, would not be directly affected.
What's the status of employee benefits?
Coverage under the federal employee health insurance program will continue, with the employees' share accumulating until they return to paid status. Coverage under the life insurance program also continues, without cost to the employee. For the long-term care and vision/dental insurance programs, enrollees must continue to pay the premiums; those paying through payroll deduction will be billed directly if the unpaid period lasts a number of weeks.
What if I'm deemed "essential," but get sick?
You might want to take steps to assure they are feeling well in addition to feeling good, because if you become too sick to work during a shutdown they would face the same uncertainty over their pay for the time off work as those who are furloughed.
For example, the Navy has issued new guidance to its civilian employees warning that "Excepted employees who are not able to work due to sick leave, jury duty, etc., must be placed in a furlough status (i.e., non-duty, non-pay) until they are able to return to duty."
If I'm a retired federal worker, will I still get my check?
For millions of federal retirees who may be concerned about their annuity checks, which arrive on the first day of each month, the Office of Personnel Management said they would be paid on Oct. 1 as normal.
Federal retirement payments, like payments such as Social Security benefits, fall under the "mandatory" budget category not funded through annual appropriations and thus not affected by these kinds of funding deadlocks. According to the OPM document, federal retirees "will still receive their scheduled annuity payments on the first business day of the month."
What about other services to retirees, such as issues with missed payments or questions?
OPM's Retirement Services office employees are excluded from the shutdown because that office gets its operating money from the federal retirement trust fund. The Retirement Information Office at 1-888-767-6738 is open.
How does a shutdown end?
It's up to Congress and the White House. No doubt there would be plenty of pressure from the public and workforce. There is no law setting a time limit.
Published Oct. 1, 2013.