The impact of a government shutdown on public safety

Here's a breakdown of who is considered "essential" and "nonessential" during a federal government shutdown

By Sarah Calams, P1 Contributor

The federal government shutdown at midnight on Jan. 19, forcing thousands of federal workers to be placed on unpaid leave until a funding deal was brokered.

Along with federal workers, U.S. military members, along with their families, were also told that they would not receive a paycheck as long as the government was shutdown. Furthermore, military death benefits are not dispersed during a shutdown.

Clouds are reflected in the U.S. Capitol reflecting pool at daybreak in Washington as Day Three of the government shutdown continues, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
Clouds are reflected in the U.S. Capitol reflecting pool at daybreak in Washington as Day Three of the government shutdown continues, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The Senate voted today at 12 p.m. EST to end the shutdown with a short-term spending bill, which will last up to Feb. 8. A vote was attempted Sunday night, but was later rejected.

Senators voted 81-18 to end debate, reopen the government and vote on the bill, which would next go to the House and then to President Trump.

So what was, and still remains to be, the issue at hand? Senate Democratic leaders wanted a guarantee from Senate Republican leaders that an immigration bill will see a debate as well as a vote in the coming weeks.

If the funding bill issues are resolved by Feb. 8, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS News that legislation would proceed to address DACA, border security and increased defense spending.

The question, however, remains: how does a government shutdown affect public safety personnel and first responders?

First responder and public safety personnel affected

In 2013, a government shutdown occurred from Oct. 1-16 during the Obama administration over the inability to agree on Obamacare.

During that time, the shutdown closed the National Emergency Training Center, forcing the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to move events scheduled for its annual Memorial Weekend.

Mark Bray, a firefighter-paramedic at Montrose (Colo.) Fire Department, posted a question on Facebook during the 2013 shutdown about the National Fire Academy.

"Anybody know if the National Fire Academy was affected by the government shutdown?" Bray asked his Facebook followers.

Facebook follower Stephen Hrustich responded, saying the "gate is locked. You will not be picked up. Off campus classes are still being offered although with no support from the NFA."

In dismay, Bray replied, "They close up shop at the NFA and don't call or email students and tell them not to come or buy air fare. They force park rangers to clear the pond at Lake Powell and don't pay them."

Similarly, the FBI National Academy cancelled classes for the first time in its history during the 2013 shutdown. During the shutdown, Capt. Matt Canfield was into his first week of specialized training in Quantico, Virginia. According to the Laconia Daily Sun, Capt. Canfield was told that "his instructors were not considered 'essential personnel' and the training would be stopped."

During the shutdown, all federal employees who are believed to be "nonessential" are furloughed without pay.

Essential, nonessential federal employees

Essential personnel, according to NBC News, include:

  • Active duty military and civilian personnel
  • FBI agents
  • Doctors and nurses working in federal hospitals
  • Air traffic controllers
  • TSA officers
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents
  • Coast Guard personnel
  • Meat and poultry inspectors
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention members
  • IRS personnel
  • National park rangers
  • DEA personnel
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms field offices

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, almost all of its employees are exempt from a shutdown and would report to work.

Most federal agencies, however, do close during a shutdown, including the Department of Education and the IRS. Nearly 90 percent of Department of Homeland Security personnel, who are considered "essential," continue working, according to the DHS. Most Department of Justice employees also continue working during a shutdown.  

Some Health and Human Services employees are furloughed during a shutdown as well as National Treasury Employees Union employees.

During the last shutdown, the National Park Service closed national parks and the national monuments in Washington, D.C. U.S. Forest Service employees were also deemed "nonessential."

Congress, on the other hand, continues to operate during a shutdown and members of Congress also continue to be paid. Federal prisons also still operate during a shutdown.

And even though some workers are deemed "essential," it doesn't mean that they all still get paid during a shutdown; they can have their pay withheld and still have to continue working.

The effects of a government shutdown

The longer a shutdown occurs, the more serious it becomes.

As a result, a government shutdown affects many different departments, agencies, personnel and everyday American citizens.

It causes havoc for departments and agencies that some may argue should always be considered "essential." It also creates low morale for those who are still required to work, despite being unpaid, due to the lack of backing and support of a full staff.

The effects of this shutdown, according to the Washington Post, were limited, including the halt of trash pickup on National Park Service property, cancelation of military reservists' drill plans and switching off some government employees' cellphones. However, since the shutdown continued into a workday, thousands of federal workers and federal agencies were affected; federal contractors will see delayed payments and the IRS may be forced to slow its preparations for the upcoming tax season.

Over the next few weeks, Congress members will reconvene and continue negotiating in order to reach a deal by the Feb. 8 deadline. 

Until then, it's all a waiting game.

  1. Tags
  2. Legal
  3. Budget

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2018 All rights reserved.