Some Federal Employees See Potential Shutdown as D-Day


Lanaye Cambridge is a single woman, federal employee and resident of Southeast Washington, who is worried about a possible government shutdown this weekend.

“I have spent the last few weeks looking for a part-time job, because if they shut us down, the electric, gas and mortgage companies will still be hard at work and will still need to be paid on time.”

On the eve of what many government employees are calling D-Day, some are making drastic changes in hopes that they can financially weather a potential storm. Recent talks among congressional members about shutting down the government have many federal employees in turmoil, especially those like Cambridge who make only enough to support themselves.

“Time is up,” Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia said in the Washington Post. “It is up to the Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate to offer significant spending cuts as part of legislation to fund the government for the rest of the budget year.”

On April 8, 2011, short-term federal funding could run out and cause a partial shutdown of every government agency, excluding essential workers.

“I have contacted my mortgage company to try and get a loan modification and lowered the features on my cell to try and prepare to be without a job for a while,” Cambridge said, “but it’s really not that much preparing we can do, so I’m hoping it doesn’t happen because I have nothing to fall back on.”

Naomi Dove is living on Andrew’s Air Force Base while her husband is stationed in Afghanistan at Kandahar Air Base. “I am not a federal employee, but if the government is shut down my husband won’t be paid and that puts me and our daughters in a tough situation.”

“We are just hoping for the best, because for the most part he provides for and supports our family.”

According to the latest Congressional Research Service report, nine funding gaps occurred with durations of up to three full days during budget year 1981 to budget year 1995. A significant exception to the trend occurred in budget year 1996, when President Clinton and the 104th Congress engaged in extended negotiations over budget policy. Two funding gaps led to shutdowns, amounting to five days and 21 days. No similar funding gaps have occurred since then.

The report also stated that the five-day shutdown lasted from Nov. 13-19, 1995, and resulted in the furlough of an estimated 800,000 federal employees. The second shutdown, a record 21 days, put 284,000 federal employees out of work from Dec. 15, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996, and 475,000 essential employees working without pay.

Historically, federal employees affected by shutdowns have received their salaries retroactively. “Getting your money at a later date may not help much when the bills are past due, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to catch up,” Cambridge says.

The Congressional Research Service report also provides a list of effects that previous government shutdowns have had on the public. They include, health, because new patients were not accepted for clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), law enforcement and public safety due to delays in criminal processing. In addition, 368 National Park Service sites were closed, including parks, museums and monuments.

About $32 million a day from national parks revenue would be lost if the government is shut down, officials told CNN. David Barna, a spokesman from the National Parks Service, says that a shutdown would bar 800,000 daily visitors from national parks, seashores and historical sites.

President Barack Obama said during a press conference held April 5, 2011, that “it would be inexcusable for us to not be able to take care of last year’s business, something that could have been done three months ago, when were we are this close simply because of politics.”

The deadline for Congress to agree on a budget has been pushed back a few times, and politicians are now at a point where they are forced to make a decision or allow a government shutdown that will affect the entire nation.

A shutdown would also affect the District of Columbia and limit local spending, but Mayor Vince Gray said Washington would still deliver essential services. However, the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and libraries would close, trash collection would be delayed a week and the transportation department would make only emergency street repairs.

“We regret that we even have to consider the possibility that the District of Columbia would fall victim to a partisan standoff on Capitol Hill,” Gray said in a statement on his contingency plan.

Gray and U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., renewed their plea for Congress to pass her Local Funds Continuation Act so that D.C. can spend money for the rest of the fiscal year.

“This situation is the clearest case that we can make for immediate budget autonomy and, ultimately, full statehood,” Gray said. “It’s just wrong and inappropriate for the D.C. government to be treated, in budget matters, like another federal agency and for our residents to be treated like second-class citizens.”

“Hopefully,” Cambridge said, “I can find a part-time position to sustain me if we get shut down.”

“The bad part is the people making these decisions don’t suffer, just those of us who desperately need our jobs.”

Map by Whitney Robinson, video by Aleesa Mann and graphic by Brittany Miller.