A partial government shutdown come early Saturday morning could see roughly 100,000 federal workers employed at the departments of agriculture, energy, housing and urban development, veterans affairs and transportation furloughed or without paychecks unless Congress comes up with the funds to keep their departments open, according agency shutdown plans tallied by Federal Times.

The following week, hundreds of thousands more employed by the Pentagon, IRS, Social Security Administration and State Department, among others, could also be without pay if their agencies are not funded by another stop-gap measure or a full year appropriations package, which at that point would be nearly six months late.

“This isn’t a game,” tweeted Virginia Sen. Mark Warner on Sunday. “Federal workers will miss paychecks.”

In all, the federal government employs about 2.1 million workers. Even if the government shuts down “completely,” hundreds of thousands will keep working, either because they’re funded outside of the appropriations cycle or their work is deemed essential to national security, public health or the protection of life and property. However, many would be unpaid for their work, however long the shutdown lasts — a proposition feds say puts extreme stress on their finances.

The most immediate threat is the deadline on Friday, March 1. At midnight, the current continuing resolution keeping the departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Energy open runs out. The Department of Veterans Affairs is also included in this group, but it is less affected because it has advance appropriations, though that’s not to say budget uncertainty doesn’t still hamper long-term planning and veteran outreach.

Impacts would vary by agency. Air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration would keep working without pay in the event of a shutdown this weekend. And at the Department of Energy, critical functions related to nuclear reactors would continue to ensure no mishaps. Veterans health care providers would also continue working.

For others, however, a shutdown could send them home. Congress is jointly in session just three days this week after having been away last week, and previous reports indicate President Joe Biden will meet with top leaders of the House and Senate Tuesday to discuss the looming budget deadline, the Associated Press reported.

“For too many months, we have been coming right up to the precipice of disaster and avoiding it with a continuing resolution,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger in a statement, who represents Virginia’s 7th District, which includes Quantico. “It needs to stop.”

Pinch of CRs already felt

If Congress renews the continuing resolution on Friday to buy itself more time to negotiate, it will keep agencies funded at last year’s levels.

In a letter to colleagues Feb. 25, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., instructed members of the Senate to keep their schedules flexible this week after the weekend failed to produce appropriations bills for review. He said he and others are having “intense discussions” with House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson.

As for federal agencies, they’re already feeling the pinch of now thrice-renewed stopgap bills in lieu of a full 2024 budget. Federal Times previously reported that keeping departments at last year’s toplines doesn’t allow them to modify or start new contracts for many different projects related to IT, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence or modernization goals.

Some agencies may also be forced to slow staffing and tread carefully on recruitment given uncertainty about when money for training and onboarding will become available. Agencies also have been forced to cut programs they can no longer sustain, as NASA did recently with a Mars mission project.

“The department is still operating under a third extension of a continuing resolution, a stopgap funding measure that prevents any new starts and limits our ability to implement a fully resourced national defense strategy,” said Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh during a Feb. 20 briefing. “No amount of money can buy back the time we lose when we are forced to operate under continuing resolutions.”

Starting Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget will instruct agencies to notify their workforces of the status of funding, whether or not a lapse still seems imminent.

From there, it’s up to agency leaders to determine who is “excepted” and must continue working, perhaps without pay, and “exempt,” or otherwise unaffected because they are funded outside the appropriations cycle.

As a reminder, thanks to legislation born out of past shutdowns, all federal employees are guaranteed back pay by law.

Partial shutdowns are not unprecedented

Since the 1980s, shutdowns have become more common and more damaging. The longest lasted more than a month in 2018.

This time, there’s an added quirk in that a portion of the government could shut down if Congress manages to only meet one of the two deadlines of the “laddered” CR.

But it won’t be the first time the government is partially shuttered. In 1981, 1984, 1995 and 2019, shutdowns affected certain agencies while others managed to get a spending bill passed.

The other concern for lawmakers is they are inching closer to consequences of the previously signed Fiscal Responsibility Act, which disincentivizes a yearlong CR in an effort to force Congress to get its budget timeline back on track. The last time Congress enacted a full-year continuing resolution was for fiscal year 2011.

If, by April 30, there is no 2024 budget deal, the debt ceiling law triggers a 1% reduction in defense and nondefense spending through a sequestration order at the beginning of May.

Shutdown resources for feds and families

Federal Times has been compiling resources for government employees facing the possibility of a government shutdown. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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