Federal government is – once more – counting down to a partial shutdown

Congress is running up on yet another critical government funding deadline on March 22, with one week to go before the potential, partial shutdown of several critical departments.

Negotiators are still working furiously around the clock to finish their work on the remaining six bills.

And so the federal government has once more begun the mandatory process of planning to bring the affected agencies’ nonessential functions to a halt one week from Friday.

“One week prior to the expiration of appropriations bills, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent, OMB will communicate with agency senior officials to remind agencies of their responsibilities to review and update orderly shutdown plans, and will share a draft communication template to notify employees of the status of appropriations,” a document from the White House Office of Management and Budget states.

If this feels familiar, that’s because this is the fifth time since September that lawmakers have run up against a funding deadline, passing stopgap bills in the nick of time in September, November, January and earlier this month to keep the government running.

Congress passed a first slate of government funding bills ahead of another partial deadline earlier this month, providing funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development as well as the Food and Drug Administration, military construction and other federal programs.

But funding for the remaining departments and agencies expires at the end of the day March 22. That includes the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, Treasury, Health and Human Services, Education and Labor. A series of sticking points remain including over funding for DHS.

Millions of federal workers and military personnel would be affected by the shutdown, including about 60% of civilian federal employees, according to Andrew Lautz, senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

At least 625,000 workers, mostly civilian Defense Department employees, could be subject to furlough, he said. At least another 725,000 civilian federal employees, mainly in the departments of Homeland Security and Defense, could have to continue working, but not get paid until the shutdown ends, Lautz said.

And just over 2 million military personnel, including active duty and selected reserve members, could also have work without pay.

With the clock ticking and thorny issues remaining, here’s what could happen in the absence of a deal:

Department of Homeland Security: Airport delays and border operation harm

The Department of Homeland Security oversees a number of critical functions, including transportation security, border security and disaster relief. According to shutdown guidance updated by the department in November, a vast majority of the department’s workforce of 258,052 federal employees are designated as exempt from a shutdown and would remain at work without pay (229,844).

Transportation Security Administration personnel would be among the DHS employees working without pay, which could create headaches and delays for travelers at airports. During the 2019 shutdown, hundreds of TSA officers called out from work – many of them to find other ways to make money.

US Border Patrol agents are also considered essential and would continue to perform their law enforcement functions, including apprehending migrants crossing the border unlawfully, during a government shutdown – but without pay. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would also continue its law enforcement duties.

An estimated 60,411 Customs and Border Protection personnel are expected to remain working during a lapse in appropriations and estimated 16,764 employees will be considered exempt or excepted at ICE in the event of a shutdown, according to a DHS document detailing the agency’s procedures.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which also falls under DHS and is tasked with processing asylum claims, would continue work that’s fee-funded.

Even though border authorities would keep working, a shutdown could harm other operations.

In previous shutdowns, for example, the Department of Homeland Security was forced to delay maintenance of facilities, “which had a serious impact on law enforcement officer operations and safety, including at the border,” according to a 2019 congressional report that reviewed the cost of past government shutdowns.

“The lack of these critical maintenance and repair services endangered the lives of law enforcement officers and created significant border security vulnerabilities,” the report said.

A TSA officer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta in October 2023. - Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images
A TSA officer at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta in October 2023. - Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Department of Defense: US response, civilian workforce, new contracts, recruiting affected

More than 2 million US military personnel continue their duties during a shutdown, but they could potentially work without pay. It would depend in part on whether Congress would pass legislation similar to the one it approved prior to the 2013 shutdown that guaranteed that the military would be paid during the impasse.

And the Department of Defense’s robust civilian workforce supporting service members’ efforts is impacted. About 45% of the civilian workforce of more than 800,000 employees would be furloughed.

“The department will continue to defend the nation and conduct ongoing military operations,” a planning document from the Pentagon most recently updated in November said.

A potential shutdown would come at a critical moment for a number of crises abroad. Department officials have repeatedly warned that cuts would need to be made that would impact the US response.

“If we don’t have the support of Congress, if we don’t have a budget, if we continue to operate under a continuing resolution, if we don’t get our supplemental passed, no, things are not going to be sustainable,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh recently told reporters. “We are going to have to look to make cuts to continue to fund our operations in the CENTCOM AOR, to continue to support Ukraine.”

And while defense contracts awarded prior to a shutdown continue, the department’s guidance states that “new contracts may not be executed.”

The White House has also previously warned that a lapse in funding could lead to a disruption in military recruitment efforts.

State Department: No new contracts, no new job offers

About one-third of the State Department’s employees are required to work during a potential shutdown, according to guidance from the department updated in November. All US embassies and consulates abroad “will be operational for national security reasons,” and the department will continue operations supporting passports, visas and assisting US citizens abroad.

But any new State Department grants and contracts will be ceased, with the exception of those that “protect life and property, and for reasons essential to national security.” New job offers to prospective Civil Service members will be halted – potentially having long-term effects for recruitment. And any new, official travel that does not fulfill a national security purpose would stop, according to the department’s guidance.

Treasury Department: Questions for tax season

The Treasury Department updated on Friday the contingency plan for the Internal Revenue Service, which is in the middle of the tax filing season. It notes that the IRS has multiyear funding under the Inflation Reduction Act that it can use to continue processing returns to the extent necessary to protect government property, including tax revenue, as well as continue implementing the Direct File pilot program and the act’s green energy provisions. Audit functions, however, would cease during a shutdown.

A little fewer than half of the agency’s nearly 90,000 employees would continue working during a shutdown.

IRS employees are busy processing tax returns for the season, which ends April 15 for most taxpayers. The agency expects nearly 129 million returns to be filed by the deadline.

The IRS has never experienced a shutdown during the filing season, Commissioner Danny Werfel told reporters in January, shortly before an earlier potential shutdown that Congress averted through a short-term funding bill. The agency would do what it could to minimize disruptions, he said at the time.

In 2019, the longest government shutdown on record ended on January 25, and the tax filing season started on January 28.

Department of Education: Impacts to federal student aid, civil rights office

During the first week of a lapse in funding, the Department of Education would furlough 89% of its total staff, according to the agency guidance last updated in September.

Some key operations would be able to continue for a “limited time,” including the disbursement of federal student loans and grants and the processing of the Free Applications for Federal Student Aid. The department is currently working on processing FAFSA applications for students who have applied for financial aid for the upcoming 2024-25 academic year. Financial aid award letters have already been delayed this year after the bumpy rollout of an updated FAFSA form and calculation.

But the department warned in September that, at some point, processing FAFSA forms and disbursing federal student aid “could also experience some level of disruption due to a lapse.”

The agency also warned that a lapse in funding beyond one week “would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities, vocational rehabilitation agencies, and other entities that depend on the Department’s discretionary funds to support their services.”

Additionally, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights would have to pause its work to review and investigate civil rights complaints during a lapse in funding. The office has launched a number of investigations into alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Labor Department: Economic indicators affected

About 4,100 of the Labor Department’s roughly 15,500 employees would be retained if the federal government shuts down, according to the agency’s contingency plan that was filed in January. Nine agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Veterans Employment and Training Service, would cease operations until funding is restored. The lack of jobs, unemployment, inflation and other data from the bureau would make it harder to gauge the status of the nation’s economy.

The department would continue several significant activities, including worker protection activities funded through other resources, worker benefits under entitlement programs and the protection of life and property in cases of imminent threat. For example, agencies would monitor and respond to child labor investigations and process disaster recovery grant applications for dislocated workers. The department also would continue to support states in the administration and payment of unemployment benefits.

However, it would cease many worker protection agency investigations funded with annual appropriations unless they involve responding to or preventing fatalities, catastrophes or imminent danger. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would not conduct any programmed inspections and suspend most compliance and technical assistance, outreach programs and training classes, among other activities.

Department of Health and Human Services: Furloughs

The Department of Health and Human Services would furlough 45% of its employees, or nearly 40,000 people, if the government shuts down, according to the contingency plan the agency filed last year. More than 49,000 employees would be retained, and the majority of them would continue to be paid through mandatory, multi-year, carryover or user fee funds.

But its top priority during a funding lapse is “to protect the health of Americans,” the plan said. For instance, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, which is devoted to research, will continue to admit and care for patients from whom it is medically necessary. The Administration for Children and Families will continue to support kids in the Unaccompanied Children program. The Food and Drug Administration will continue to respond to emergencies, including outbreaks related to foodborne illnesses and the flu, product recalls and the screening of imported food and medical products. The 988/Suicide Lifeline will continue to operate.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Lauren Fox, Haley Britzky and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

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