As the clock ticks, government again preps for a shutdown
WASHINGTON — Once again, defense officials are warning that civilian employees will be furloughed and troops’ paychecks delayed if lawmakers fail to avert a government shutdown by this weekend.
It’s the third serious shutdown threat this year, all brought on by bitter fiscal divisions in Congress. On Wednesday, federal managers began informing employees of the latest budgetary stalemate, and the possible effects it would have on their jobs.
By Thursday morning, Congress appeared to be on the verge of compromise in the form of a $1 trillion omnibus budget bill that would keep the federal government operating into 2012.
However, if an agreement can’t be reached by Friday night, federal departments would not have funds necessary for daily operations. All non-critical programs will be closed, according to the Office of Personnel Management, and furloughed government workers will not be guaranteed pay for the time missed.
For troops, a shutdown would not mean any change in their duties or work hours, but it could mean a delay in processing and sending out paychecks later this month. Civilian defense employees deemed essential will stay on the job, but non-essential personnel will be sent home on a temporary furlough.
In a memo to defense workers, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged that the shutdown threat “puts federal employees in a difficult position, and we are very much aware that a shutdown would impose hardships on many employees.”
Carter said civilian employees will be told Friday whether or not they are essential. In the past, Pentagon officials have said Defense Department schools, Tricare, AAFES and military medical facilities would stay open during a shutdown, but staffing for those services may suffer.
Veterans Affairs officials sent similar information to their workers on Wednesday.
“We do need to be prepared for any contingency, and, in case Congress does not act, we are taking the steps necessary to be prepared if a lapse in funding should occur,” VA spokesman Josh Taylor said.
VA officials have said veterans hospitals will stay open, and existing pension benefits, GI Bill stipends and disability payments will continue uninterrupted.
Health call centers and suicide hotlines will stay open, but general information and education phone centers will shut down. New benefits claims will likely be delayed. Regional offices will have limited hours, and burials at national cemeteries will “be conducted on a modified rate.”
In the two previous shutdown threats, lawmakers reached agreement on the budget issues just a few hours before the deadlines.