Congress has just over a week to pass funding legislation for the entire federal government, or repeat many of the circumstances from December 2018 that led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
Despite early White House and congressional agreements on the contents of some appropriations bills, there are federal employees that have started anxiously eyeing their checkbooks, as a repeat of last year’s holiday shutdown could have significant consequences on their finances, according to a survey released by the National Treasury Employees Union.
The survey, which was conducted Dec. 6-11 and received over 6,200 responses, found that over 81 percent of responding NTEU members worried about their ability to pay their bills if they missed even one paycheck during a shutdown. In fact, over 72 percent said that they have or will cut back spending soon in anticipation of another shutdown Dec. 20.
“Right now, federal employees are very, very anxious, and many are even, I would probably say, terrified of another shutdown occurring again,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said on a press call. “From my perspective, it’s not too early to sound the alarm.”
Perhaps most strikingly, the survey found that 63 percent of respondents felt that regularly occurring shutdowns make them want to leave government service.
That number differs from the mere 10 percent of respondents to the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey who said that the most recent shutdown was at least partially the reason they had started looking for new jobs.
But according to Reardon, the fears about a shutdown and desire to get out of a line of work increase as the likelihood of another becomes more real:
“From the end of the last shutdown until that period, a month and a half to two months ago, no one talked to me about shutdowns. I mean, this was something that was in the rearview mirror. But then, about a month ago or so, it began to make the news and it began to get on people’s minds.”
The FEVS survey was conducted in late spring and early summer this year, meaning that feds had solidly passed the period of the previous shutdown but hadn’t yet seen whether there was potential for a future shutdown.
According to the NTEU survey results, feds are also concerned about the timing of the potential shutdown, as over 52 percent said that a shutdown would interrupt their planned travel or leave for the holidays.
Planned paid leave for feds is generally cancelled during a shutdown, as excepted employees that are considered essential are expected to report for work without pay during a shutdown. Other employees can also be recalled to the office unexpectedly, if their status of essential versus non-essential changes partway through a shutdown, as happened with many IRS employees in early 2019.
Though progress has been made on the passage of a defense spending bill, and Reardon said that he believes there isn’t the stomach for another shutdown in Congress, appropriators may have to turn to continuing resolutions to fund all of government by the Dec. 20 deadline.
“I’m hearing everything from, we could have a short-term CR that would take us into the middle of January or February, I’ve heard a CR into sometime in March or April, I’ve also heard that we could have a CR for the remainder of fiscal year 2020,” said Reardon.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.