As nearly every American has probably heard, the federal government began a partial shutdown last night just after midnight. The shutdown is happening because the House and Senate have continually failed to reach an agreement on funding, and time finally ran out. That means that all non-essential federal employees are out of work until this gets sorted out. It also means that the essential workers are working without pay. This is obviously going to have widespread effects on every facet of society, but a lot of people are especially concerned with our national security, an issue that is almost solely handled by the federal government. Here’s how it will be affected.
The good news is that a majority of federal employees at the Department of Homeland Security will continue to work during the federal shutdown, via DHS’s contingency plan. Nearly 200,000 of the Department’s 231,000 employees are labeled “essential.” For those of you traveling, there’s no need to worry about longer lines at airport security as the TSA is retaining about 93% of its employees. Citizenship and Immigration Services will top the list of DHS components by retaining 97% of its employees during the shutdown, while the Secret Service will still be highly functional with 92%. These are the good numbers.
Not every agency will be staffed as well as DHS during the shutdown. The Pentagon is expected to send home some 50% of its civilian employees. The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office will retain a total of 6 of its 115 employees. Right now all we have are the numbers. Officials aren’t exactly sure how the shutdown is going to affect security because the government has never experienced a shutdown while facing the kinds of threats we face today. All we know for sure is that the burden is going to be placed on a smaller number of people receiving no payment for protecting our country. As a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told The Daily Beast, “if we experience a partial shutdown, the intelligence community’s ability to identify threats and provide information for a broad set of national security decisions will be diminished for the duration.”
It’s not just government employees dealing with this problem. The government is also prohibited from extending or signing new contracts with civilian defense contractors that make up a pretty sizable portion of our national defense plan. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called civilian contractors “integral parts of the defense and security of the United States,” and called Congress’ failure to reach a compromise “an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern.”
I won’t get on my soapbox, mostly because I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said a million times over about the fine folks in Congress. I think posting this link will suffice. What I will say is that there are now 800,000 federal employees in limbo while Congress continues to collect paychecks. A lot of those people protect us from both foreign and domestic threats on a daily basis and they’ve been thrown under the bus. We just have to keep our fingers crossed until this mess is over and hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.
Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research