TOPICS > Politics

Shutdown Specifics

November 13, 1995 at 12:00 AM EDT

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I’m joined by John Koskinen, the deputy director for management in the Clinton administration’s Office of Management and Budget. Thanks for being with us. How did you decide who should be furloughed and who shouldn’t? Do you have any guidelines you follow?

JOHN KOSKINEN: The determinations were made by the agencies, depending on their own circumstances. They looked at the guidelines presented by the attorney general in an opinion about who is an excepted position and who is going to work. Those plans were then submitted to OMB, and we reviewed them primarily to make sure that there was consistency across the government, but the plans, themselves, are specifically designed and adopted by the agencies.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But this is something that’s actually provided for in the Constitution, is it not?

MR. KOSKINEN: Yes. The Constitution provides that the government will make–shall make no expenditures or incur any obligations without an appropriation having passed. So that’s the requirement. Then there is a statute, the Anti-Deficiency Act, that to protect the government and the Treasury against over-obligation of funds specifically provides that without an appropriation, there shall be no action at all taken by the government.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So can you give us a sense of who will be furloughed and who won’t. For example, let’s talk about some specifics, federal courts.

MR. KOSKINEN: Well, courts will operate under their Article III of the Constitution, rights to continue to function. The Anti-Deficiency Act makes the determination that everyone is, in effect, furloughed unless they are involved in–and there is an exception for those involved in emergency actions to protect imminent threats to life or property. So that’s the standard that the agencies had to apply. Now, if you look at across-the-board, the obvious people in protecting life or property obviously the police, so the FBI, various law enforcement agencies of the government will be functioning. Those managing prisons will function. The Customs Department will continue its work at the borders, as will the INS.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about state parks?

MR. KOSKINEN: On the other hand, state parks will be closed. State monuments will be closed. And a wide range of government services will not be provided.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Give us a sense of how many civilian federal employees there are and how many are likely to be furloughed, of course, if there’s not some agreement tonight. There could be an agreement. We’re assuming that at this moment–

MR. KOSKINEN: That’s right.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: –for this discussion there’s no agreement.

MR. KOSKINEN: There are about a million, slightly over a million, nine hundred thousand federal civilian employees. Of those, the expectation is approximately eight hundred thousand will be furloughed. Another 200,000 have funding. The Agriculture Department Appropriation Bill was enacted, so the Agriculture Department will continue to operate. And there are other programs, specific programs that have forward funding. But that means that almost a million federal employees will be in the excepted class, because they will be providing emergency services. So it’s 800,000 furloughed and about 1,100,000 who will be working.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And if we’re in Denver or somebody in Topeka, Kansas, or in some other city, will they notice this right away, or it really won’t be noticed for a couple of days, will it?

MR. KOSKINEN: Well, everyone’s in a different situation. If you’re in Denver, obviously, if you work for the federal government, you’ll be affected directly. Even if you’re working, as opposed to be furloughed, no one will be paid until there is an appropriation. If you work, we have incurred the obligation to pay you, but the time remains to be seen. So if you work for the government, or you’re in the family of a government worker, or you actually have government workers as your customers, you will notice it immediately. Similarly, if you work for a government contractor or are part of a family of someone working for a government contractor, even if the contractor has a contract and continues to work, again, payment will not be made until there is an appropriation. Beyond that, if you are a young person, a man or woman, who wants to join the armed services, those applications will not be processed. If you happen in Denver to turn 65 this week during a shutdown, your application for Social Security will not be processed. If you’re a veteran applying for new benefits this week in Denver, those applications will not be processed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: This is not the first time this has happened. Can you give us a sense of the precedence for this. How long has the government shut down when it shut down before?

MR. KOSKINEN: There have been several cases in the last 15 years. The government has never shut down for more than two working days, so that we are–if we get beyond–first, if we have a shutdown and we get beyond two days, we’ll be in uncharted territory.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think is going to happen? What’s your best guess at this moment?

MR. KOSKINEN: I think there’s no way to predict. We have fundamental questions being debated in this country right now. As the President noted this morning, the problem is that the Congress has tried to attach a couple of those fundamental questions onto the continuing resolution and, in effect, the entire government will have to shut down if he does not, in fact, concede to the House and the Senate. And he’s made it clear that he will not.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is the cost of the shutdown? It’s not cheap to close these agencies.

MR. KOSKINEN: No, it is not. There are millions of dollars of expenses just in the closing expenses, and then historically, the workers who are furloughed have been paid retroactively as a result of a special appropriation. And the House and Senate leadership last week noted that they would propose that same principle this time, and the administration strongly supports that. But at that rate, if we actually furlough 800,000 employees, that costs us about a billion dollars a week in wages for people who will have been furloughed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Can people volunteer to work? Let’s say there’s an agency and somebody feels very strongly that it’s important that the work go on, can that person volunteer to work?

MR. KOSKINEN: That’s an important question because my experience in the year and a half I’ve been in the government is that the federal work force is dedicated, committed to the missions of their agencies. And so left to their own devices, I’m sure that literally thousands would volunteer to work, but the statute is clear. The agencies cannot accept voluntary work by otherwise employed government officials who have been furloughed, so there will not be volunteers available in any of the agencies.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Koskinen, thank you very much for being with us.

MR. KOSKINEN: Thank you.

MR. LEHRER: That reference just now to state parks was an error, of course. It’s national parks that would be affected by the federal government shutdown.