In some ways, the U.S. government began to reopen almost as soon as it shut down.
Just before the appropriations ran out as the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, Congress passed a measure to keep paying uniformed military personnel and President Barack Obama signed it immediately. Days later, the Pentagon declared that the law permitted the recall of about 90 percent of the 350,000 civilians it had furloughed.
Other agencies have also taken advantage of a law that allows them to retain workers necessary to protect life and property even when funding disappears. This week, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would recall about 800 of its 15,514 furloughed workers for inspection work. The Central Intelligence Agency brought back an undisclosed number involved in its “core missions,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called back 10 employees to confront a salmonella outbreak.
The Pentagon recall alone means about 40 percent of the 800,000 workers who were furloughed Oct. 1 have been called back to duty -- bringing the shutdown toll to fewer than 500,000 people. The portion of the 2.74 million-person civilian workforce sent home fell to about 15 percent from 30 percent at the start of the shutdown.
“The government is clawing itself back” because agencies are finding that they need more workers than they originally deemed essential, Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said in a phone interview. “That line between essential and non-essential has moved within the last week.”
The shutdown has still left hundreds of thousands of people worrying about their next paycheck and has shuttered important services and closed monuments and national parks.
And some agencies that had been spared the shutdown because of accumulated funds or fee-based income could still close as the money runs out.
The U.S. Courts have “severely restricted spending” to make its leftover cash reserves last. It said today on a statement that it will remain open through Oct. 17.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, responsible for overseeing the safety of the nation’s nuclear reactors, is ceasing normal business operations today after running out of spare cash, leading the agency to furlough 3,600 of its 3,900 employees. Inspectors based at nuclear plants will remain on the job, as well as others needed to respond to emergencies.
The Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s statistical arm, has funding to continue operations through the end of the week. The closure of the EIA would deprive energy traders of the weekly oil statistics on Wednesdays and natural gas data on Thursdays.
“The absence of data will hit transparency,” said Julius Walker, global energy markets strategist at UBS Securities LLC in New York, in an Oct. 8 report. “It may become more difficult to gauge developments in the world’s largest consumer of oil.”
The normal operation of other fee-funded agencies may be in jeopardy if the fiscal impasse lingers, according to Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.
“What is happening at the NRC should drive home the point that this shutdown is damaging the interests of all Americans and needs to be ended promptly,” Kelley said in a statement.
The shutdown, now in its 10th day, has underscored the fact that not all federal agencies are created equal.
The Justice Department, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration, exempted 96,300 of its 114,486 employees from furloughs. The National Institutes of Health, which operates a hospital, retained about 27 percent of its staff of 18,646, according to the agency’s contingency plan.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency sent home more than 90 percent of its 16,205-person staff.
Other jobs are funded by means other than annual appropriations and thus were not impacted. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, draws upon its own revenue and has kept working. The Federal Reserve is funded by the interest on its assets, and thus isn’t subject to the budgetary whims of Congress.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Oct. 5 that the legislation that ensured service members were paid on time during the shutdown permitted the military to call back employees responsible for the “morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
The Pentagon furloughed about 47 percent of its civilian workforce -- about 350,000 employees -- when the shutdown went into effect, William Urban, a Defense Department spokesman, said in an e-mail. More than 90 percent were recalled beginning Oct. 7 “and will be paid on time and in full going forward,” he said.
CIA Director John Brennan said in an e-mail to agency employees that he was recalling an undisclosed number of the more than 12,000 furloughed workers “necessary to carry out CIA’s core missions of foreign intelligence collection, all-source analysis, covert action, and counterintelligence.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has authorized a similar recall in his office, as well as at the National Counterterrorism Center, the National Counterproliferation Center, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive and the National Intelligence Council, the intelligence community’s top analytical body, said Shawn Turner, Clapper’s spokesman, in an e-mail.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which furloughed about 9,000 of its 13,000 employees, on Oct. 8 recalled some workers to help identify the source of a salmonella outbreak, after chicken produced by Foster Farms LLC sickened almost 300 people in 18 states.
“We just had to bring back some of the people that would work on the data analysis and epidemiology work,” Barbara Reynolds, a CDC spokeswoman, said in a phone interview. The unit that monitors such illnesses is now operating with about two-thirds of its normal 30-person staff, she said.
“People who are working during the lapse of appropriations are not paid at this time,” Reynolds said.
Ron Foster, chief executive officer of Foster Farms, said in a statement that the company was “taking every possible step to ensure the current and future safety of our chicken products.”
The debate over who is allowed at work during a government shutdown has a lengthy legal history. The so-called Antideficiency Act, first adopted in 1870 though updated since, prohibits U.S. officials from spending the government’s money before lawmakers appropriate the funds, with some exceptions, according to an August report by the Congressional Research Service.
The primary workers who are exempted from furloughs are those considered necessary for the protection of life and property, according to Sharon Parrott, a vice president at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.
Some recalled workers who were previously furloughed, such as those Federal Emergency Management Agency employees needed to respond to Tropical Storm Karen along the Gulf Coast, fit into this category, she said.
“At a practical level, people are working with their office of general counsel very carefully to determine what’s legal and what’s not” in terms of staffing during the shutdown, Parrott said. “It’s not all black and white.”