With the end of the current FY2011 Continuing Resolution only three days away, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued guidance to federal employees on plans for an orderly shutdown of governmental activities.  The message from OPM expressed hope that a successful resolution of the current budget impasse could be reached.  However, it stated that “prudent management” requires the administration to issue planning guidance for a shutdown if negotiations on FY2011 appropriations are not completed by Midnight Friday, April 8. 

If these negotiations fail and a shutdown is ordered, OPM agencies will be directed to execute their contingency plans.  These plans describe which activities agencies are legally allowed to perform and which must stop.

Employees funded through appropriations would be furloughed, unless their duties are designated “excepted,” in which case they would continue to work.  So-called “non-excepted” employees cannot work and would not be allowed to become unpaid volunteers.  If a federal worker is scheduled to be on approved paid leave (annual, sick, etc.), that leave must be canceled.

The guidance stipulates that agencies cannot pay either “excepted” or non-excepted” employees during a shutdown.  When Congress approves and the president signs a FY2011 appropriations bill, “excepted” employees would be paid for work during the shutdown period.  However, “non-excepted” employees would not receive pay for the period unless Congress provides authority in law.

The question of pay for military personnel during a shutdown was not addressed in the guidance.  But, it is being reported that administration officials have said servicemembers would not be paid for work performed during a shutdown.  In response to questions about military pay during a shutdown, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell told reporters all shutdown-related issues have not yet been decided, but DOD is preparing guidance for a potential shutdown and will disseminate that guidance soon.  In any case, military personnel would be considered “excepted” and would receive back pay when an appropriations bill is enacted. 

Health benefits and Group Life Insurance for both “excepted” and “non-excepted” federal employees would continue for any shutdown period lasting up to 365 days.  However, Federal Long Term Care and the Dental and Vision Insurance Plan would not be in force for “non-excepted” employees.  OPM will issue additional information on how “non-excepted” employees can continue this coverage.

Further details, description, and definitions are provided by OPM with the guidance in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format.   For example, “excepted employees” are defined as those employees 1)  “performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,” 2) “performing minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations,” and 3) “performing certain other types of excepted work.”  Senior agency managers, working with legal counsels, would determine which employees are performing “excepted” and “non-excepted” work.