Federal agencies are dusting off their overused shutdown plans in anticipation of another forced work stoppage. Once again, if Congress and the White House fail to agree on either a temporary continuing spending resolution (CR) or a full-fledged agreement to end the spending curbs imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, a government shutdown of non-essential services will ensue.
That’s what happened for 16 days in 2013, costing the economy billions, and costing Republicans and American politicians even more—a loss of faith in status-quo government. Over the last two years, American voters have given Congress some of the lowest single-digit approval ratings ever. President Obama hasn’t fared much better, with his favorability ratings under 50 percent for many months.
The dysfunction at the highest levels of government has given rise to the “outsider” phenomenon among today’s presidential candidates—people who have never been elected to any government office. Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are three of those outsiders.
In 2013, preparation for the shutdown was almost non-existent. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) then headed by Sylvia Burwell who now heads Health and Human Services, called for an orderly shutdown. But only a handful of agencies actually had a plan, so it was a last-minute scramble for many when it should have been a smooth transition.
This time, however, OMB made sure there were contingency plans in place.
“Agency heads, in consultation with their general counsels, must develop and maintain plans for an orderly shutdown in the event of a lapse in appropriations. Up-to-date plans must be on file with OMB,” the guidance said. “Whenever there is a change in the source of funding for an agency program or any significant modification, expansion, or reduction in agency program activities, the agency must submit an updated plan to OMB for review that reflects this change.”
The submissions were created for “prudent planning,” OMB spokesperson Emily Cain told Government Executive, adding the “exercise is not dependent on the current status of appropriations.”
“We are now in a situation where we may need” to implement the plans, Cain said. Congress has until the end of day on Sept. 30 to reach a deal to stave off a shutdown, and the path to doing so is still unclear.
There’s still hope that Congress will come to its senses before the end of the month, which is also the end of the federal fiscal year.