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Agencies Prepare as Congress Moves Towards a Shutdown

In a game of “will they, won’t they” on the brink of a government shutdown, agencies are preparing for a worst-case scenario. Every time Congress threatens to not pass spending bills, agencies must start putting together contingency plans for how to operate in an unfunded government.

Under the Trump Administration, the White House gave agencies wide discretion to decide who should continue working during a shutdown. As seen in past contingency plans under President Biden, it appears this administration is carrying on with this guidance.

The employees deemed essential would be authorized to work through a shutdown – no matter how long – but without receiving compensation. Congress will have to pass legislation after the government reopens to retroactively pay the government employees.

We’ve seen this enough times to know what will likely remain in operation – Social Security payments will go out, TSA security will allow passengers to keep flying, food will continue to be inspected, etc. However, given that we’re leading into an election year, here are a few key decisions to watch for if and when agencies post their contingency plans online to announce which operations will remain intact:

- Will National Parks remain open? During past shutdowns, Members of Congress have fought to keep parks open for visitors. However, keeping parks open without sufficient staffing can lead to environmental degradation and safety concerns.

- Will permits for events on federal lands remain in place? During a past shutdown, the planned Women’s March on the National Mall was allowed to move forward despite the government shutting down since it fell under First Amendment activities.

- Will health-related agencies be squeezed? The National Institute of Health will likely be prevented from accepting new patients and issuing grants.

We will provide updates as we get closer to the end of the month and if we reach a point where contingency plans are made public.


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