By Meredith Somers | @msomersWFED September 25, 2015 7:36 pm
Federal agencies are applying lessons learned during the 2013 shutdown to their current contingency plans.
As the clock ticks toward the end of fiscal 2015, agencies are making available their plans for employees — and in some cases the general public — on what to do in the event of a shutdown.
“We strongly believe that a lapse in appropriations should not occur,” said April Slayton, spokeswoman for the National Park Service . “However, at this time, prudent management requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse. The U.S. Department of the Interior is working with OMB to take appropriate action, which includes reviewing relevant legal requirements and updating our plan for executing an orderly shutdown. Determinations about specific programs are being actively reviewed. It is our hope that this work will ultimately be unnecessary and that there will be no lapse in appropriations.”
The National Park Service is just one of the agencies preparing for a possible government shutdown. Congress has until Sept. 30 to agree on how to fund the government before the start of fiscal 2016.
The Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 25 posted contingency plans for government agencies ranging from the AbilityOne Program to the United States Trade and Development Agency.
The National Park Service, however, made its plan available, showing of the roughly 24,000 NPS employees, about 21,000 of them would be furloughed. It also included a “Special Events” section, which Slayton explained was an addition to the 2013 plan.
“’Special Events’ involving park service personnel either as participants or in crowd control must be cancelled,” the plan orders. “A special provision has been made for first amendment activities in the National Mall and Memorial Parks and areas administered by the NPS Liaison to the White House in Washington D.C., and Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, (Pennsylvania). Please refer to the NPS Closure Determination and Notice for the legal record of determination. As always, law enforcement action may be taken in cases where there is a violation of NPS regulations, including if it reasonably appears that the demonstration presents a clear and present danger to the public safety, good order, or health. This includes demonstrations that either qualify under the NPS small-group permit exception or demonstrations that have submitted an application, either before or after the shutdown that were not denied.”
In 2013 the World War II Memorial on the Mall became a symbol of the shutdown, as hundreds of veterans marched through closure signs and barriers so that they could visit the shuttered memorial.
Slayton said she believed honor flight tours “are covered by the First Amendment exception on the Mall.”
The Smithsonian Institution — including the 19 museums and the National Zoo — plans on doing the same thing it did two years ago, spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said.
“We have to close the museums,” she said. “Two-thirds of our employees are federal. All will be closed.”
St. Thomas said some employees such as security and maintenance workers are considered essential, and employees paid through the institution’s trust fund will likely stay on.
“We have been through this several times,” St. Thomas said. “It’s not tourist season right now, but people do come from all over the world to the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo. So of course, they’re disappointed. It’s not only people not getting to see our exhibitions, we’re also closing the shops, the restaurants, everything in the museum that brings us in some additional revenue.”
While agencies continue rolling out their plans, organizations like the National Treasury Employees Union are still lobbying Congress to pass a funding bill.
“We are also in close touch with our members, sending frequent communications and engaging them in our work to prevent the shutdown,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “Federal employees are not pawns to be used for political purposes. They are dedicated public servants, working people with bills and expenses like anyone else. A shutdown hurts federal workers and all Americans who rely on the services our government provides.”