Does the federal government really close during a government shutdown?
Here's a little secret about the government shutdown: Many federal agencies have continued working right on through government shutdowns of the past. And there's a good reason for that - your health and safety.
See also: What is the Antideficiency Act?
While a government shutdown forces the closure of nonessential operations, there are exceptions for "emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."
Exceptions to a Government Shutdown
According to a memo from the Office of Management and Budget used to determine what agencies continued running during the government shutdowns of 1981 and 1995-1996, the excepted operations are "those that protect life and property and those necessary to begin phasedown of other activities."
Specifically, according to the OMB, operations that should continue during a government shutdown are ones that:
- Provide for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property.
- Provide for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes.
- Conduct "essential activities" to the extent that they protect life and property.
Essential Activities Continue During a Government Shutdown
The OMB, in determining what agencies stay open during a government shutdown, broadly defined as "essential" the following operations:
- Medical care of inpatients and emergency outpatient care;
- Activities essential to ensure continued public health and safety, including safe use of food and drugs and safe use of hazardous materials;
- The continuance of air traffic control and other transportation safety functions and the protection of transport property;
- Border and coastal protection and surveillance;
- Protection of federal lands, buildings such as courthouses, waterways, equipment and other property owned by the United States;
- Care of prisoners and other persons in the custody of the United States;
- Law enforcement and criminal investigations;
- Emergency and disaster assistance;
- Activities essential to the preservation of the essential elements of the money and banking system of the United States, including borrowing and tax collection activities of the Treasury;
- Activities that ensure production of power and maintenance of the power distribution system; and
- Activities necessary to maintain protection of research property.