WASHINGTON — With less than two weeks to go before a new fiscal year begins and no measure in place to fund federal government operations, the Pentagon says it has begun dusting off and updating plans for navigating a government shutdown.
The Office of Management and Budget earlier this week told federal agencies to begin preparing to shutter most operations, with only “excepted” activities to continue if funding lapses. In the past, the Pentagon has said those are ones essential to maintain the safety of life and property.
Department of Defense officials said Thursday it was too early to offer details of how a departmental shutdown might play out next month, but acknowledged the Pentagon has faced the issue many times in recent years as a deadlocked Congress and President Barack Obama have battled over contentious political issues ranging from national debt to — this week — Obama’s health-care law. House Republicans have demanded funding be stripped for parts of the law as a condition for passing a measure to fund the government.
“It’s prudent management for us to update our plans,” said Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Defense Department Comptroller’s office. “We’re certainly using past plans as a basis for this potential shutdown.
The nearest the Pentagon has come in recent years to a shutdown was in April 2011, when Congressional leaders reached a deal on funding the government about an hour before the deadline.
As the clock ticked down, the Pentagon issued orders to local commanders to quickly determine which civilian employees were necessary to keep on the job for the protection of life and property, with officials estimating half the civilian workforce would be sent home without pay, while the rest would continue to work for delayed pay.
Servicemembers, meanwhile, were told they would stay on the job, serving a country that temporarily would not be paying them. But officials said troops and civilians alike would eventually receive all back pay.
Meanwhile, the looming threat of a shutdown prompted mob scenes at military commissaries as families rushed to stock up on food and household goods. A commissary official at Ramstein Air Base told Stars and Stripes that the store had nearly doubled its normal Christmas Eve sales by midafternoon of the day of the shutdown deadline.
Unlike DOD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is funded by multi-year Congressional appropriations, would continue operations in a government shutdown, although some services could be affected, including the processing of new claims.
During past shutdown threats, VA officials said medical facilities and clinics would remain fully operational and benefits payments would continue. Claims processing for education, life insurance, home loans and other benefits would also continue, but may be delayed, officials said. VA call centers and hot lines would stop operating, however. Processing of new benefits claims would be suspended, officials said, and regional Veterans Benefits Administration offices could be closed.