The House Administration Committee released guidelines Tuesday informing House Members of employment procedures during a government shutdown, but by and large, the decision about who would be furloughed would be left up to the offices.
Staffers and support employees had been anxious to know their place in a government shutdown, and the frenzy to download the pamphlet caused the committee website to crash shortly after 9:30 a.m. The committee quickly replaced the normal website with a sparse header and a link to download the pamphlet.
According to the guidelines, offices must designate “essential” employees, who must report to work or face disciplinary action. That includes only employees “whose primary job responsibilities are directly related to constitutional responsibilities, related to the protection of human life or related to the protection of property,” Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) wrote in a letter accompanying the pamphlet.
Essential staff may receive back pay, but it’s not guaranteed. If Congressional leaders can’t strike a deal on the budget by Friday and the government shuts down, Congress must pass a provision in the next spending bill restoring pay for staff.
Staff deemed “non-essential” will be furloughed. This means they cannot work in any official capacity; communicate with the office about official business; use their House-issued BlackBerrys, laptops, email or cell phones; attend job training; or use annual or sick leave.
Members must inform the Chief Administrative Officer which employees they plan to furlough by Friday or every employee will remain on the payroll. Members are advised to tell their staff which employees will be considered non-essential prior to a shutdown.
Staff can volunteer to be furloughed and furloughed staff may receive back pay, but only if Congress passes a provision on the next spending bill after a shutdown restoring their pay.
Furloughed employees can take other jobs during a shutdown, but they are still considered House employees and must return to work when a shutdown ends. They may qualify for unemployment compensation, depending on the state in which they live.
Members would be allowed to spend for official expenses, including travel to and from their districts, but there may be delays in processing the expenses.
The Capitol Police would continue to guard the premises, but likely at reduced levels depending on how many people are in the building, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told Roll Call in February.
Services run by private contractors, such as the House cafeterias and the House day care center, will be unaffected unless there is a decreased need for their services.
Other contractors, such as companies that the Architect of the Capitol hired to work on construction projects with money appropriated in prior years, will continue to work.
But several buildings and offices would be closed, including the Capitol Visitor Center, the Botanic Garden, the flag office and the House gift shops.
CVC guides who usually direct visitor traffic and take sightseers on tours of the Capitol will also be furloughed, according to the guidelines.
The House galleries will remain operational, making the Capitol a singular attraction in what would be an otherwise shuttered federal city, a senior Democratic aide said.
“There could be a lot of lines, long lines,” the staffer said. “I can imagine the logjam that’s going to be created by closing the CVC and diverting everyone through the main buildings.”
For the most part, furloughed employees would retain their health benefits and retirement plans, but they will not be allowed to contribute to their thrift savings plans or take transit benefits in addition to what they already have. Student loan repayment program agreements will be canceled but can be continued at the option of Members’ offices.