WASHINGTON — A North Carolina National Guard infantry battalion called off a training exercise that had been planned for a year. Flu samples from around the country will no longer be collected and tested. A skeleton staff of workers at the Internal Revenue Service girded themselves to answer a deluge of questions about the new tax law.
The vast machinery of the federal government began grinding to a halt on Saturday morning, hours after the Senate failed to reach a funding deal. But like an aircraft carrier after its propellers stop turning, much of the bureaucracy will stay in motion for a while, and some essential services, like the armed forces, the post office and entitlement programs, will not stop working at all.
Tens of thousands of federal workers woke up to notices from their cabinet secretaries informing them that, barring action from Congress, they will be furloughed this coming week. The shutdown is falling unevenly: The Education Department will send home more than 90 percent of its 3,934 employees, while the Pentagon said the entire uniformed military, and half of its civilian work force, would continue to serve. But for now, even the troops will not be paid.
At the White House, three-fifths of President Trump’s staff will be placed on temporary leave. The National Security Council will stay at full strength, but about 60 percent of the president’s closest aides were to be furloughed. Others could come to the White House or telecommute, but only for up to four hours, and only to execute an orderly shutdown.
Experts on the government said the sense of confusion and dislocation was being amplified by the Trump administration’s slowness to advise staff agencies, the unusually high rate of turnover in federal ranks, and the lack of planning for a shutdown that few in the White House expected to happen.
“As bad as it would be any time, it will be worse this time,” said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that studies the federal government. “Most agencies did a very poor job of communicating with their work forces. They didn’t prime the pump.”
Yet millions of Americans will not notice the effect of the shutdown on their daily lives, and some of the most visible examples of previous government shutdowns — the closing of national parks — will not happen this time. The Interior Department said attractions like the Grand Canyon and the World War II Memorial on the National Mall would be open to visitors, though the National Park Service will close its offices and no longer provide services like cleaning restrooms, collecting trash and plowing roads.
The last time Congress failed to agree on a budget, in 2013 during the Obama administration, a group of veterans, aided by Republican lawmakers, knocked over barricades to visit the World War II Memorial. This time, said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, “the American public and especially our veterans who come to our nation’s capital will find war memorials and open-air parks open to the public.”
Critics said the decision to keep the parks open smacked of politics. “Gates would be open and people could enter, but there would be virtually no staff on hand to protect them or the parks’ resources,” said Theresa Pierno, the president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association. “It’s an irresponsible way to run parks.”
The Smithsonian Institution and its National Zoo will also stay open at least through Monday. All told, the Park Service will furlough 21,383 of its 24,681 employees, while the Interior Department will send home more than three-quarters of its 70,000 workers.
Another federal institution that will stay open, at least temporarily, is the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, told the staff on Friday that it had a financial cushion that would allow it to operate through next week even if government funding expired. “All E.P.A. employees should follow their normal work schedule for the week of Jan. 22, 2018,” Mr. Pruitt wrote in a memo. Most of the agency’s nearly 14,500 employees will be furloughed after that money runs out.
Some cabinet members put a spotlight on the damage they said a shutdown would inflict on the public. The education secretary, Betsy DeVos, said, “A protracted delay would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the department’s funds to support their services.”
Many school districts, Ms. DeVos wrote, receive 20 percent of their operating funds from the department, while colleges rely on federal funds to pay workers who help retain disadvantaged students. Moreover, the government pays about 80 percent of the cost of providing services to individuals with disabilities who are in vocational programs.
The Pentagon tried to project an image of business as usual, though the shutdown will curtail training, maintenance and medical facilities. The effects were particularly jarring at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, where hundreds of National Guard soldiers, engineers and civilian contractors had mobilized for a mock armored assault — an exercise nearly a year in the planning.
At midnight, with the Senate still in an impasse, the exercise was called off, the soldiers turned in their weapons, and the tanks returned to their motor pools. By late Saturday morning, everyone headed home.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis vowed in a memo to his staff on Friday that he would try to mitigate the effects of the shutdown, both personal and financial. Among those are the loss of $100,000 gratuity benefits to families who lose a service member, as well as government-funded travel to funerals and transfers of the dead at Dover Air Force Base, according to the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The wars, however, will go on.
“We will continue to execute daily operations around the world — ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists through the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia,” Mr. Mattis wrote.
At home, the Postal Service, which has funded its operations since the 1970s by selling stamps and other services, will remain open. The government will continue to cover more than 100 million elderly, disabled or low-income people through Medicare and Medicaid. Entitlement programs are not directly affected by the lapse in appropriations.
The Trump administration said that federal officials would continue making payments to states for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, using funds that remain unspent from prior months. But funds are running out in many states, and some have notified parents that their children could soon lose coverage if Congress does not act.
Likewise, although the Social Security Administration will furlough more than 10,000 employees, more than 52,000 will stay on to continue paying benefits and performing other essential duties. About 62 million Americans, including retirees and disabled workers, receive Social Security benefits.
“Everybody is concerned about their Social Security check,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from the Upper East Side of Manhattan, said before she went back into negotiations at the Capitol. “And 90 percent of Homeland Security will continue, which is important to people in New York.”
Ms. Maloney noted that the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians would also not be interrupted by the shutdown. Nor will proceedings at federal courts, at least for a few weeks. The courts will remain open and can continue operations through Feb. 9, using court fees and other funds.
Most proceedings will occur as scheduled, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. In cases where a federal lawyer is not working because of the shutdown, hearings may be rescheduled.
Federal officials also promised that there would be no disruption of the school lunch program or food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Food Safety and Inspection Service will continue inspecting meat, poultry and egg products.
While roughly half of the work force at the Department of Health and Human Services will be furloughed, the department said it would continue services that involve the safety of human life or the protection of property. Those include a suicide prevention hotline, patient care at the National Institutes of Health, and product recalls and other consumer protection services run by the Food and Drug Administration.
At the I.R.S., however, the shutdown will burden an already understaffed agency that is staggering under a crush of questions related to the new tax law. The Treasury Department said 45,479 people, or 56 percent, of the I.R.S.’s staff would be furloughed. Because of budget cuts, the agency has lost some 21,000 employees since 2010.
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, warned this past week that a shutdown would stress an already strained tax system, and that it would be the fault of Congress and the Trump administration, not federal workers, if problems arose.
Mr. Stier of the Partnership for Public Service said, “I don’t think anyone has thought of the implementation of the tax bill in the context of a shutdown. People totally underestimate how difficult this is.”
Reporting was contributed by Coral Davenport, Erica Green, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Sheila Kaplan, Robert Pear, Alan Rappeport and Donald G McNeil Jr.
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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Blame and Bickering Muddy Parties’ Efforts To Resolve Shutdown. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
WASHINGTON - The United States government officially shut down on Saturday (Jan 20) after US Senate Democrats blocked passage of a month-long stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded past the midnight deadline.
During government shutdowns, employees in all three branches of government are vulnerable to furlough, or temporary unpaid leave.
Other "essential" workers, including those dealing with public safety and national security, will continue working, some with and others without pay.
After previous government shutdowns, Congress passed measures to ensure that essential and non-essential employees received retroactive pay.
Past shutdowns have done little lasting economic damage but these events can hurt federal workers, rattle markets and shake confidence in the United States abroad.
Here is what you need to know about a US federal government shutdown:
WHAT CAUSES A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND HOW TO AVOID IT?
A shutdown happens when Congress and the President fail to sign into law 12 appropriations bills in order to continue providing funding for government operations, according to Fox News. These bills determine spending for specific government agencies.
To avoid a shutdown, members of Congress can give themselves an extension, known as a continuing resolution. The temporary funding measure keeps the federal government open and allows lawmakers more time to negotiate the remaining appropriations bills.
HOW LONG DOES A SHUTDOWN LAST?
"As long as it takes," Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the non-profit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget told Fox News, adding that it usually takes a weekend for this to happen.
"We're talking days or weeks - not months," Goldwein said.
HAS IT HAPPENED BEFORE?
According to Goldwein, the US government has shut down 18 times since 1976, the year Congress introduced the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, Fox News said. Half of the shutdowns occurred over a weekend. Goldwein added there have really only been three significant government shutdowns in the history of the US.
November 1995: Government funding elapsed for five full days from Nov 14 to 19 and about 800,000 workers were furloughed after Democratic President Bill Clinton vetoed spending legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Congress, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.
December 1995 and January 1996: Clinton's continued clash with congressional Republicans over funding levels for the Medicare health insurance program for the elderly, education and other issues resulted in a second lapse in government funding for 21 full days from Dec 16, 1995 to Jan 6, 1996, when about 280,000 workers were furloughed, according to the CRS.
October 2013: During this standoff, government funding elapsed for 16 full days from Oct 1 to 17 and about 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, according to the CRS. More than 1 million more reported to work without knowing when they would be paid, according to media reports.
The last shutdown occurred after conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives attempted to use the budget process to delay or defund implementation of Democratic President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
WHAT'S AFFECTED UNDER THE SHUTDOWN?
The last government shutdown in October 2013 lasted more than two weeks and about 850,000 federal employees were furloughed.
DEFENCE, SECURITY AND TRAVEL
The 1.5 million uniformed members of the US military, mostly in the Defence Department but also 40,000 with the Department of Homeland Security, will remain at work. All military personnel performing active duty will continue in a normal duty status, the Pentagon said Thursday. But a large number of civilians in both departments, including about three-fourths of the roughly 740,000 civilians who work for the Pentagon, will stay home.
Officials at the Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services will remain on the job checking and processing people entering the country by land, sea and air.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control, will remain at work, and airports will remain open for travellers.
KEY GOVT OPERATIONS: The White House, Congress, federal courts and the Veterans Administration will all continue to operate. The investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Russians and President Donald Trump’s election campaign will remain active.
MAIL DELIVERY: The US Postal Service will continue to deliver the mail.
PARKS AND MUSEUMS: According to tentative plans, national parks and museums will remain open, but some public employees at the parks could be furloughed. Private contractors, who supply food and other services, will maintain operations.
The parks were closed during the last shutdown in 2013, which upset many tourists and resulted in the loss of US$500 million (S$660 million) in visitor spending in areas around the parks and at the Smithsonian museums.
HEALTHCARE: Disease monitoring and prevention will slow. About 61 per cent of the staff of the Centers for Disease Control will be furloughed, according to The Washington Post, and much of the research-focused National Institutes of Health will be shuttered.
FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT: The stock market-policing Securities and Exchange Commission funds itself by collecting fees from the financial industry, but its budget is set by Congress. It has said in the past it would be able to continue operations temporarily in a
shutdown. But it would have to furlough workers if Congress went weeks before approving new funding.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, meanwhile, would have to furlough 95 per cent of its employees immediately. An agency spokeswoman said the derivatives regulator could, however, call in additional staff in the event of a financial market emergency.
OTHER PUBLIC SERVICES: Other agencies will largely shut down, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the Commerce Department, the Labour Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency. That means people and businesses will not get documents and permissions processed, contractors will have difficulty moving ahead on their projects, and disaster relief will slow.
HOW MUCH WILL A SHUTDOWN COST?
The 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost the country US$24 billion of lost economic activity, according to an analysis from ratings agency Standard & Poor's, Fox News said.
"The payroll cost of furloughed employee salaries alone - that is, the lost productivity of furloughed workers - was US$2 billion," the Office of Management and Budget reported in 2013.
Goldwein told Fox News that shutdowns "waste money" more than they "cost money."
"We're not going to spend more money. We're just going to spend it on worse stuff," he explained. "Instead of paying employees to work, we're paying them not to work."
WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON FINANCIAL MARKETS?
Investors have shrugged off the latest threat of a federal government shutdown, saying they are not worried about a major pullback in shares even if US lawmakers fail to strike a deal. If history is any guide, a shutdown would not be enough to knock the market off course.
And investors have already shown they can ignore political risks at home and abroad, focusing instead on earnings and economic data to drive shares to record highs.
Wall Street strategists were hopeful a deal would be reached in the nick of time. Congress on Dec 21 averted a shutdown just one day before federal funding was due to expire, sending Trump a bill to provide just enough money to keep agencies operating through Jan 19.
But even if a shutdown does occur, strategists expect investors to take it in stride, given the muted reaction during the three past shutdowns that have occurred when equity markets were open.
The first of these was in November 1995 and the last was in October 2013. And even with the S&P 500 Index at near-record highs after rising 19 percent in 2017, investors were skeptical the reaction to a 2018 shutdown would be any different.
"The market impact is likely to be limited simply because the US Treasury still has enough money to pay its bills through March," said Peter Donisanu, global research analyst for Wells Fargo Investment Institute in St. Louis. "We'd see pullback in markets as buying opportunity."
On a mostly partisan vote of 230-197, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved the stopgap funds on Thursday night, sending the bill to the Senate for consideration before the looming deadline.
Despite the passage, the bill still faced uncertain prospects in the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to begin considering later on Thursday, with a first procedural vote likely.
WILL IT AFFECT OPERATIONS AT THE US EMBASSY IN SINGAPORE?
When contacted by The Straits Times on Friday (Jan 19), US Embassy Singapore spokesman, Ms Camille Dawson, said in an email: “To prepare for this possibility that a lapse in funding could occur, the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Singapore are updating plans and will decide which activities will continue in the event of a shutdown.”
“As of this time, we do not anticipate that embassy operations will be significantly affected if there is a short-term lapse in funding,” Ms Dawson said, adding that should that change, the embassy will provide updates via social media and its website.
SOURCES: REUTERS, FOX NEWS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE