• Federal agencies make plans for potential shutdown
     | September 29,2013

    Rep. Xavier Becerra D-Calif., center, Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-NY, left, and Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., right, address the media after a Democratic Caucus meeting in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. Lawmakers from both parties urged one another in a rare weekend session to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown, with the midnight Monday deadline fast approaching. But there was no sign of yielding Saturday in a down-to-the-wire struggle that tea party lawmakers are using to try derailing President Barack Obama's health care law. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

    WASHINGTON — As Congress continued to spar Saturday over a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running, federal agencies made contingency plans for a potential shutdown.

    Each Cabinet-level department and federal agency was required to identify essential personnel and determine which operations would continue if no deal is reached by Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year.

    Although huge swaths of the federal bureaucracy could be forced to close down, many government functions would continue.

    Senior Pentagon officials said Friday that the more than 1.3 million active military personnel would remain on duty during a shutdown but probably would not receive their paychecks until a spending agreement was reached. The service members and civilians who stay on the job would be categorized as essential to the protection of life and property and to national security.

    About half of the Defense Department’s approximately 800,000 civilian employees would take furloughs without pay.

    There is little question that troops deployed to Afghanistan would continue their missions, as would warships now off the coast of Syria to pressure the Assad government to adhere to a plan to surrender its chemical weapons stockpile.

    Documents released Friday by the Pentagon listed essential duties that would be carried out during a government shutdown, including recruitment, intelligence and surveillance, fire protection, counseling and other services for sexual assault victims, operations of mortuary facilities for fallen service members, and a broad range of medical care.

    The military is one of several departments whose employees are considered essential for national security purposes. The Department of Homeland Security — which is made up of agencies like the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency — would have to furlough roughly 14 percent of its employees, far lower than many other Cabinet-level agencies.

    Nearly all of the FBI’s roughly 16,000 agents and analysts at its headquarters and 56 field offices across the country would continue to work, because they are considered essential to protecting the country. “Nonessential” employees — like carpenters and dock employees who unload shipments — would be told to stay home.

    Most employees of the State Department would continue to report to work, domestically and abroad. Most overseas employees — and many of the people working in Washington to support colleagues abroad — would be considered essential because of their diplomatic and national security functions.

    Much of the State Department operates outside the usual congressional appropriations process, meaning that many bureaus and offices would remain open. Most passport offices, for example, would continue to process applications normally, because the department’s consular function is financed largely through fees.

    Although more than half of the Department of Health and Human Services would be furloughed, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries would continue to receive services. Retirees would continue to receive Social Security checks.

    The rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law, with the first insurance marketplaces to go online starting Tuesday, would continue, since most of the money for that program was provided by the Affordable Care Act and other laws.

    The Food and Drug Administration would continue some vital activities, like product recalls and the inspection of imports, but would curtail many other food safety activities.

    National parks and their visitor centers would be closed, but other Interior Department operations would carry on. The approximately 500 Fish and Wildlife Service employees, whose salaries are paid by a permanent appropriation, would continue caring for animals at parks and hatcheries; at the U.S. Geological Survey, employees would continue to monitor equipment to forecast floods or detect earthquakes and volcano activity; Native Americans would continue to receive benefits payments, and the Bureau of Indian Education would operate its schools.

    The District of Columbia, whose budget is approved by Congress, usually would be required to send home all but its most essential employees, shuttering services like public libraries and the department of motor vehicles. But in protest of Congress’ inability to agree on a spending measure, Washington’s mayor, Vincent C. Gray, deemed all District employees to be essential.

    While Gray’s gambit seemed legally tenuous, the chairman of the City Council, Phil Mendelson, was expected to hold a vote Tuesday on legislation that would allow the city, during a shutdown, to pay its employees from a contingency reserve fund.

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