WASHINGTON — The Pentagon would furlough 400,000 civilian workers and temporarily stop paying death benefits to military families. The National Park Service would close all 401 national parks and give overnight campers two days to leave. Calls to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would go unanswered.
Those are among the effects the public probably will notice first if federal agencies start shutting down Tuesday because Congress has failed to pass a bill to provide money for the new fiscal year.
Agencies began disclosing their contingency plans Friday, and the announcements immediately became part of the partisan back-and-forth over whether the government will shut down and who is to blame.
Unlike some other budget battles, the effect of a shutdown would quickly become visible. About half the government’s civilian workforce, about 1.2 million employees, is expected to face furloughs. The Pentagon would have to stop paying service members, although they would still be required to report to duty.
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The first paychecks that would not be issued — if a shutdown lasted long enough — would be the ones due Oct. 15, said Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s top financial officer. In a shutdown, the department would also stop other payments, including death benefits, Hale said.
“We would have no authority to pay the money, and in that case the payment would be delayed,” he said.
A shutdown would grow increasingly difficult to manage over time, as the military runs out of options for delaying operations and is prohibited from entering into any new contracts with vendors, he said.
Because Congress has failed to pass any of the money bills needed to fund government agencies, most will have to begin shutting down when the new budget year begins Tuesday. The exceptions are programs that do not require annual appropriations, including Social Security and Medicare, and those deemed essential to protect life, property and national security. That means that fire-suppression missions would continue, for example, but parks would close.
Furloughed employees could be paid retroactively if Congress passed a law authorizing it. Retroactive pay was approved after the shutdowns of the mid-1990s but it is not guaranteed.
The last time a comparable shutdown happened, in 1995 and 1996, the effect on the economy was substantial. Closing parks cost nearby businesses about $14 million each day, according to the Congressional Research Service. The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association projects that the hit this time would be more than twice as large.
About 21,400 park service employees nationwide would be ordered not to report to work. Also facing that prospect are 37,000 employees who manage federal lands and coastal activities for the Interior Department.
Because most law-enforcement functions are considered essential, the effect would vary widely from federal department to department.
At the Department of Homeland Security, which includes the U.S. Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, most of the 231,117 workers would remain on the job. Officials said 31,295 would be furloughed.
By contrast, more than half of the Department of Health and Human Services’ 78,000 workers would be furloughed.
The IRS would halt taxpayer services such as responding to questions and conducting audits.
“If the government is closed, people with appointments related to examinations (audits), collections, appeals or taxpayer advocate cases should assume their meetings are canceled,” the Treasury announced.
Contractors and other recipients of government grants have followed the news anxiously. Many are positioned to weather a brief shutdown without any major disruptions, but could find themselves in trouble during a prolonged stalemate.
One group that does not face a loss of paychecks, however, is Congress.
“Due to their constitutional responsibilities and a permanent appropriation for congressional pay, members of Congress are not subject to furlough,” the Congressional Research Service said.