The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is considering a small piece of legislation that could have a big impact down the road. As the ball gets rolling, momentum is building rapidly.
Congressman Ted Budd (R-N.C.) wants to know exactly which workers the government can live without. His “Essential Act of 2018” seeks to “require every agency to submit a list of all employees deemed non-essential.”
Once the names are gathered, they will be turned in to the Office of Management and Budget.
“It’s irresponsible for Congress to allow government operations to shut down, but in the event this does happen, many federal employees are deemed ‘non-essential’ and are told to stay home.”
When Congressional bickering prevents the passage of a functioning budget, we have a temporary “government shutdown.”
Under H.R. 5091, agencies are required to notify OMB who was sent home, how much they get paid, and what they do when they are supposed to be working.
“In the case of a lapse in appropriations for an agency, not later than 120 days after the date on which such lapse in appropriations ends,” agency heads are to submit the name of each employee furloughed, their job description, and their basic rate of pay.
The proposed legislation would be a good step in the direction of draining the swamp by reducing out of control red tape, Budd notes. “The first step in addressing our bloated bureaucracy should be increasing the transparency within our own government.”
The 60 percent of workers who stay on the job, either have their salaries paid from “non-appropriated funds,” or because what they do is considered “necessary to protect life or property.”
In cases where the funding does not come from Congressional budgets, they say the employee is “exempted” from furlough. Those workers that we just can’t live without are called “excepted.”
Those terms started being used in 1995 to replace “essential” and “non-essential” but nobody got used to using them in casual conversation, so the old versions are both still heard all the time.
There is no quick and dirty way of deciding who stays and who goes when the government loses its authority to spend money.
At each and every agency they decide what works for them. Individual agencies may have guidance outlines but most use procedural suggestions worked out under President Reagan.
The Reagan administration’s Justice Department put together an interpretation of “The Antideficiency Act,” which establishes general procedures and the office of management and budget usually reaches out to affected agencies when a shutdown looms on the horizon.
When most people hear our lawmakers talking about “nonessential” employees, we start wondering why we really need them.
Author Jeff Neal points out that the reason the terms were changed in the mid-nineties was that they are somewhat misleading. “There is no category of employees who are deemed ‘non-essential’ in a shutdown. That is not a term of art – it is just a commonly misused term.”
Typically, when a shutdown happens, about 40 percent of federal workers get a vacation. They are supposed to be on an unpaid “furlough,” but the reality is that they get paid eventually.
In the two recent shutdowns, a total of around 860,000 were sent home without pay. Both times, Congress agreed to “grant those workers back pay.”
“I personally feel like saying nonessential is kind of like if you go on vacation, we can find a way to make sure that work gets done,” legislative director Jessica Klement observes.
“It’s not that your job isn’t important. It’s that while Congress is busy trying to get its act together, we can figure this out without that person there.”
In the last two shutdowns, “35 federal agencies, commissions, and boards were affected.”
As an example, “the House members’ gym was directed to remain operational while the gym for Congressional staff closed.”
The reason the House members gym was considered so essential is that “dozens of House members live in their government offices to save personal expenses and use the House gym to shower.”
Over at the Foreign Agricultural Service, they “help improve agricultural practices in other countries.” Nobody would miss that department if they went away for a week or two but in the long term, valuable work would be impacted.
Identifying un-needed and duplicate workers is only half of the story and from there, anyone looking to trim the fat is still looking at a major uphill battle.
Once we identify which of the nearly two million “non-essential” workers that we can live without completely, we can’t just turn them loose. It is virtually impossible to fire a federal worker, even do-nothing or corrupt ones.