WASHINGTON (AP) — More than a third of federal workers would be told to stay home if the government shuts down, forcing the closure of national parks from California to Maine and all the Smithsonian museums. Low-to-moderate income borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays.
These would be just some of the effects of a government shutdown that could furlough as many as 800,000 of the nation's 2.1 million federal workers. It could hit as early as Tuesday if a bitterly divided Congress fails to approve a temporary spending bill to keep the government running.
Supervisors at government agencies began meetings Thursday to decide which employees would continue to report to work and which would be considered nonessential and told to stay home under contingency plans ordered by the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB.
Details about shutdown plans for each agency were expected to be posted on the OMB and individual agency websites by Friday afternoon, according to union officials briefed on the process. Formal furlough notices would be sent on Tuesday, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
"Fifty percent of our members may be locked out of work altogether during this shutdown," said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "Half will be expected to continue to work without a paycheck."
Employees who are deemed essential and keep working will not be paid during the shutdown. Once Congress does approve new funding, they would receive retroactive pay.
Not all government would cease to operate. Services considered critical to national security, safety and health would go on as usual, such as border patrol, law enforcement and emergency and disaster assistance. Social Security and Medicare benefits would keep coming, for example, but there likely would be delays in processing new disability applications.
Active-duty military personnel are exempt from furloughs, as are employees of the U.S. Postal Service, which doesn't depend on annual appropriations from Congress.
Union officials said preparations for a possible shutdown have created anxiety and uncertainty among federal workers and among those who have an expectation of government services.
"Federal agencies have had to devote time and resources to develop yet another crisis plan, distracting agencies from their critical missions," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. "And, if the government shuts down, the public will be further harmed by the loss of vital services people need and depend upon."
The last shutdown, which took place during the Clinton administration, lasted three weeks, from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996.
At the Smithsonian, a majority of the 6,400 employees at 19 museums would be furloughed, said spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. Museum doors would remain closed as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, ruining vacation plans for thousands of tourists expecting to see the National Air and Space Museum or view art at one of the museum's galleries.