Thousands of federal employees may soon have to contend with being forced to stay home or having to work without pay, as Congress has only a week left to pass a funding package for several large federal agencies and general government appropriations.

Congress has yet to indicate a likely solution for fully funding the government into 2019, due largely to the fact that President Donald Trump has indicated he will not sign appropriations legislation without at least $5 billion for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

According to data compiled by the Senate Appropriations Committee staff of Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., a partial shutdown would mean that 420,000 federal employees would have to work without pay, a number that constitutes approximately 20 percent of the federal workforce.

Employees that have to work without pay during a shutdown are generally considered essential personnel whose continued work is necessary for public safety, national security or other critical government operations.

Because one of the agencies yet to be funded is the Department of Homeland Security, up to 88 percent of personnel at that agency would be required to work without pay.

Federal law enforcement and correctional officers would also be heavily impacted.

An additional 380,000 employees, making up 18 percent of the workforce, would be furloughed, meaning that they would be out of work for as long as Congress fails to pass appropriations.

A majority of those employees would come from the Department of Commerce or IRS, though significant numbers of feds from NASA, the National Park Service, the Forest Service and the Department of Transportation would be out of work.

A partial shutdown would also impact the thousands of federal contractors that work at the agencies, though their pay and work in the face of the shutdown are dependent on the companies they work for.

Congress has a few options available to avert the Dec. 21 shutdown, the most likely including:

  • Pass full fiscal 2019 appropriations for all agencies currently without it. This option seems unlikely if Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on spending for the border wall.
  • Pass another continuing resolution for all agencies currently without funding, kicking the can into next year and the responsibility of a new Congress with a Democrat-controlled House.
  • Pass full appropriations for all agencies except DHS, the agency that oversees the border wall at the heart of the debate. This option would require the passage of a continuing resolution for DHS or risk a Homeland Security-specific shutdown.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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