WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance, Banking, Budget and Rules committees and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today wrote to the heads of several federal Departments raising questions about the Trump Administration’s compliance with the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from obligating or expending federal funds not appropriated by Congress. Now in its 32nd day, the current shutdown is the longest in American history, and questions are being raised about the seemingly ad hoc way in which the Trump Administration is picking “winners and losers” during the shutdown – determining which employees will be furloughed and which employees will be deemed “excepted,” expected to continue working without pay to keep certain government services operational.
Previous presidential administrations have applied a narrow interpretation to determine which employees are considered essential during a shutdown, restricting such a designation only to employees whose jobs were necessary to avoid “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
“Government shutdowns are never good, the current one being no exception, and they never produce positive results. Our hard-working federal employees deserve to be paid for their work, and to be paid in a timely manner rather than waiting weeks, months, or even years for a shutdown to end. Rather than finding ways to minimize the impact of the current government shutdown, and straining legal bounds to do so, it is my strong belief that the best way to fix the current situation is to simply end the shutdown,”Sen. Warner wrote to several Trump Administration officials.
Press reports indicate that Department heads under the Trump Administration have taken a questionable and inconsistent approach towards determining what programs will continue to operate under the shutdown:
- For example, at the Department of the Interior, furloughed employees from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management were recalled after several weeks in order to work on upcoming offshore oil and gas lease sales;
- During the shutdown, the State Department proceeded with holding a conference for all U.S. chiefs of mission and ambassadors abroad in Washington, D.C. from January 15-18, requiring many State Department employees to work without pay to organize and work at the conference; moreover, the Department recently recalled all furloughed employees in order to carry out the Department's mission without providing additional explanation on how this complied with the Antideficiency Act and why that move was needed to avoid imminent threats to human life or protection of property;
- More than three weeks after the shutdown began, the Department of Transportation recalled thousands of employees to perform work such as air-safety checks, and routine activities such as approving new aircraft for commercial carriers’ fleets and new flight routes;
- At the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), employees were recalled, reportedly at the behest of the mortgage industry, to conduct income verification checks, and to process tax refunds, even though both activities were initially designed as non-excepted activities under the IRS’s shutdown plans;
- The Department of Agriculture recalled 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees to help farmers with existing loans and tax paperwork, among other tasks.