Past Government Shutdowns: Key Resources

When federal government agencies and programs lack budget authority after the expiration of either full-year or interim appropriations, they experience a “funding gap.” Under the Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. §§1341 et seq.), they must cease operations, except in certain circumstances when continued activities are authorized by law. When there is a funding gap that affects many federal entities, the situation is often referred to as a government shutdown. In the past, there have occasionally been funding gaps that led to government shutdowns, the longest of which lasted 21 full days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. The most recent shutdown occurred at the beginning of FY2014. The shutdown began October 1, 2013, and lasted for a total of 16 full days.

The relevant laws that govern shutdowns have remained relatively constant in recent decades. However, agencies and officials may exercise some discretion in how they interpret the laws, and circumstances that confront agencies and officials may differ over time. Consequently, it is difficult to predict what might happen in the event of some future shutdown. Still, information about past events may offer some insight into possible outcomes and help inform future deliberations.

This report provides an annotated list of historical documents and other resources related to several past government shutdowns. Sources for these documents and resources include the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Government Accountability Office (GAO), House and Senate Committees, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Executive Office of the President. When possible, the report includes links to full-text documents.

For more information about federal government shutdowns and funding gaps, see CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, coordinated by Clinton T. Brass.

This report will be updated as additional resources are identified.

Past Government Shutdowns: Key Resources

August 24, 2017 (R41759)
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Summary

When federal government agencies and programs lack budget authority after the expiration of either full-year or interim appropriations, they experience a "funding gap." Under the Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. §§1341 et seq.), they must cease operations, except in certain circumstances when continued activities are authorized by law. When there is a funding gap that affects many federal entities, the situation is often referred to as a government shutdown. In the past, there have occasionally been funding gaps that led to government shutdowns, the longest of which lasted 21 full days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. The most recent shutdown occurred at the beginning of FY2014. The shutdown began October 1, 2013, and lasted for a total of 16 full days.

The relevant laws that govern shutdowns have remained relatively constant in recent decades. However, agencies and officials may exercise some discretion in how they interpret the laws, and circumstances that confront agencies and officials may differ over time. Consequently, it is difficult to predict what might happen in the event of some future shutdown. Still, information about past events may offer some insight into possible outcomes and help inform future deliberations.

This report provides an annotated list of historical documents and other resources related to several past government shutdowns. Sources for these documents and resources include the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Government Accountability Office (GAO), House and Senate Committees, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Executive Office of the President. When possible, the report includes links to full-text documents.

For more information about federal government shutdowns and funding gaps, see CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].

This report will be updated as additional resources are identified.


Past Government Shutdowns: Key Resources

Introduction

This report provides historical documents and other resources related to past government shutdowns, along with brief annotations that describe the contents of the documents. The report includes links to full-text documents when available. There is limited information and guidance related to shutdowns, and it is difficult to predict what might happen in the event of one, but information about past events may help inform future deliberations.

The following annotated resources are meant to guide readers to relevant materials from governmental and selected nongovernmental sources.

Congressional Research Service Reports and Memoranda

The following CRS reports and memoranda include information related to past government shutdowns.

CRS Reports

Brief Description: This report discusses the causes, processes, and effects of federal government shutdowns, including potential issues for Congress.

Brief Description: This report reviews the effects of a lapse in appropriations on the Department of Defense. Activities that provide for national defense have been permitted to continue during past government shutdowns. This report has been updated to reflect some aspects of the October 2013 shutdown.

Brief Description: This report discusses the effects of the FY2014 government shutdown on the economy and financial markets. It also reviews third-party estimates of the effects of the shutdown on the economy.

Brief Description: This brief report includes short annotations and links to CRS products related to the October 2013 government shutdown.

CRS Memoranda

  • CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, FY1977-FY2014 Funding Gaps: The Enactment of Regular Appropriations Acts and Continuing Resolutions, by [author name scrubbed], November 12, 2014.

Brief Description: This memorandum lists the regular appropriations and continuing resolutions enacted before, during, and after each funding gap that occurred between FY1977 and FY2014. It is available on request from [author name scrubbed] at [phone number scrubbed] or via email at [email address scrubbed].

  • CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, The Historical Policy Context for the FY1977-FY2014 Funding Gaps: Excerpts from Government and Media Sources, co-coordinated by [author name scrubbed] and Jared Nagel, September 8, 2015.

Brief Description: This memorandum provides background on the historical policy context for the 18 funding gaps that occurred between FY1977 and FY2014. It is available on request from the authors, either [author name scrubbed] at [phone number scrubbed] or via email at [email address scrubbed], or Jared Nagel at [phone number scrubbed] or via email at [email address scrubbed].

Government Accountability Office

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)1 has published reports related to past and potential shutdowns. The following documents investigate possible issues and provide historical context surrounding government shutdowns.

Brief Description: According to GAO, this report was completed "in response to congressional requests," for which "GAO contacted 13 cabinet departments and 12 selected agencies and offices to obtain information about the costs of a 1981 partial shutdown of government offices." It includes cost estimates, background information about the costs, and GAO recommendations to Congress concerning agency operations in the event of a government shutdown.

Brief Description:2 According to GAO, as of March 1981, "interruptions in federal agency funding at the beginning of the fiscal year (FY) and operations on continuing resolutions have become the norm rather than the exception." For years, many federal agencies continued to operate during a funding gap, while "minimizing all nonessential operations and obligations, believing that Congress did not intend that agencies close down" while waiting for the enactment of annual appropriations acts or continuing resolutions. During the FY1981 appropriations process, the President requested opinions on the Antideficiency Act from the then-U.S. Attorney General, Benjamin Civiletti.3 In two memoranda issued in 1980 and 1981, the Attorney General stated that the act required agencies to terminate all operations when their current appropriations expired. According to GAO, agencies were uncertain how to respond to the Attorney General's opinion and what activities they would be able to continue if appropriations expired. This GAO report outlines some of the problems surrounding late appropriations and funding gaps. It also includes Attorney General Civiletti's opinions within Appendices IV and VIII.4

Brief Description: GAO was asked to provide available information on the numbers of federal employees who might have been subject to furlough in the event of a second shutdown in 1995. GAO provided numbers that were based on plans provided by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to GAO in October 1995. The numbers included within this document do not represent actual furloughs. The numbers represent planned furloughs in advance of the two shutdowns, which occurred later in November and December–January.

Brief Description: In 1990, GAO issued a questionnaire to government agencies in an attempt to measure the effects of a partial shutdown which occurred on Columbus Day weekend. This report also includes estimates on the effects of a hypothetical three-day shutdown during a nonholiday workweek.

House and Senate Committee Prints and Hearings

Committee Prints

The following committee print includes historical information on a past government shutdown.

  • U.S. Congress, House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, Cost of Shutting Down Federal Government on November, 23, 1981, committee print, 97th Congress, 2nd session, March 25, 1982 (Washington: GPO, 1982), available at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/pur1.32754077662413.

Brief Description: This committee print assessed the cost of the November 23, 1981, shutdown of federal offices resulting from a presidential veto of a continuing resolution for FY1982. The committee print includes individual federal departments' and agencies' shutdown impact assessments in a study conducted by GAO (pp. 73-212).5 It also includes cost estimates, an OMB memorandum, and a presidential veto statement.

Hearings

The following are congressional hearings that include historical information on past shutdowns. Some of these hearings include items for the record such as OMB memoranda.

Brief Description: This hearing took place before the November 1995 shutdown, and it examined potential scenarios if a shutdown were to occur. The hearing includes testimony from Walter Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, and Alice M. Rivlin, Director, OMB. The hearing includes additional materials such as articles, letters from the Federal Reserve System, and a memo6 from Walter Dellinger to Alice Rivlin.

Brief Description: These hearings were held in December 1995 and generally covered the November 1995 shutdown.7 Because the hearings were not published until 1997, some additional information related to the December 1995-January 1996 government shutdown is included.8

Brief Description: The hearing was held to consider legislation9 that would have directed the Department of the Interior to accept donations from state governments' employee services for assistance in operating national parks and wildlife refuges during federal government shutdowns.

Brief Description: The hearing was held during the October 2013 shutdown and looked at the National Park Service's implementation of the government shutdown.

Brief Description: The hearing was held during the October 2013 shutdown and focused on the impact of the shutdown on benefits payments and services for veterans.

Brief Description: The hearing was held during the October 2013 shutdown and focused on the possible and emerging economic and other impacts related to the shutdown.

Brief Description: The hearing was held during the October 2013 shutdown and it examined the impacts the shutdown was having on small businesses.

Brief Description: The hearing was held during the October 2013 shutdown, and it examined interpretations of H.R. 3210, the Pay Our Military Act, which ultimately was enacted as P.L. 113-39.

Brief Description: The hearing was held during the October 2013 shutdown. The hearing examined policy options for ending the shutdown and addressing the debt ceiling, and it also reviewed potential solutions to promote fiscal sustainability and economic growth.

Office of Management and Budget

Guidance Documents for Agencies

OMB documents and guidance regarding potential or actual funding gaps and shutdowns may provide insights into current and future practices. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has provided links to copies of previous OMB bulletins and memoranda for reference.10 This website, entitled Pay & Leave Furlough Guidance: Shutdown Furlough, is available at http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/furlough-guidance/#url=Shutdown-Furlough.

The OMB documents include the following.

  • OMB Bulletin No. 80-14, Shutdown of Agency Operations Upon Failure by the Congress to Enact Appropriations, August 28, 1980 (citing the 1980 Civiletti opinion11 and requiring agencies to develop shutdown plans);
  • OMB Memorandum, Agency Operations in the Absence of Appropriations, November 17, 1981 (referencing OMB Bulletin No. 80-14; stating the 1981 Civiletti opinion12 remains in effect; and providing examples of "excepted activities" that may be continued under a funding gap);
  • OMB Bulletin No. 80-14, Supplement No. 1, Agency Operations in the Absence of Appropriations, August 20, 1982 ("updating" OMB Bulletin No. 80-14 and newly requiring agencies to submit contingency plans for review by OMB);
  • OMB Memorandum M-91-02, Agency Operations in the Absence of Appropriations, October 5, 1990 (referencing OMB Bulletin No. 80-14; stating that OMB Bulletin No. 80-14 was "amended" by the OMB Memorandum of November 17, 1981; stating the 1981 Civiletti opinion remains in effect; and directing agencies on a Friday how to handle a funding gap that begins during the weekend);
  • OMB Memorandum M-95-18, Agency Plans for Operations During Funding Hiatus, August 22, 1995 (referencing OMB Bulletin No. 80-14, as amended; citing the 1981 Civiletti opinion; transmitting to agencies a 1995 Office of Legal Counsel opinion as an "update" to the 1981 Civiletti opinion;13 and directing agencies to send updated contingency plans to OMB); and
  • OMB Memorandum M-13-22, Planning for Agency Operations during a Potential Lapse in Appropriations, September 17, 2013 (citing Section 124 of Circular A-11 and providing guidance and coordinating efforts to facilitate contingency planning in accordance to the Antideficiency Act).

OMB also provides agencies with annual instructions in Circular No. A-11 on how to prepare for and operate during a funding gap.

Brief Description: The circular establishes two "policies" regarding the absence of appropriations: (1) a prohibition on incurring obligations unless the obligations are otherwise authorized by law and (2) permission to incur obligations "as necessary for orderly termination of an agency's functions," but prohibition of any disbursement (i.e., payment).

The circular also directs agency heads to develop and maintain shutdown plans, which are to be submitted to OMB at a minimum every four years, starting August 1, 2014, and also when revised to reflect certain changes in circumstances. Agency heads are to use the Civiletti opinions, a 1995 Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel opinion, and the circular to "decide what agency activities are excepted or otherwise legally authorized to continue during an appropriations hiatus."14

Agency Contingency Plans

OMB has a website with links to agency shutdown contingency plans arranged by agency. This website, entitled "Agency Contingency Plans," is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/information-for-agencies/Agency-Contingency-Plans.

Impacts and Costs of Shutdowns

FY1996

The hearing entitled Government Shutdown I: What's Essential?, includes some estimates related to the December 1995–January 1996 shutdowns. The hearing includes an OMB letter with information about the effects of the shutdowns and counts of employees who were excepted and not excepted from furlough, pp. 266-270 and 272-274. This hearing is available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-104hhrg23275/pdf/CHRG-104hhrg23275.pdf.

FY2014

OMB released a report on November 7, 2013, with some estimates on the cost of the October 2013 shutdown. The report includes information on federal employee furloughs, economic effects of the shutdown, and some impact estimates related to select programs.15 This report is available at http://web.archive.org/web/20140701035515/http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/reports/impacts-and-costs-of-october-2013-federal-government-shutdown-report.pdf.

Office of Personnel Management

OPM has some information publicly available on the Internet related to government shutdowns and furloughs.

Brief Description: This website includes links to guidance related to administrative and shutdown furloughs. The shutdown portion of this website includes the following additional guidance:

  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs, October 11, 2013;
  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Memorandum to Agencies on Retroactive Pay and Other Matters, October 17, 2013; and
  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Information on Paychecks for September 22 through October 5, 2013 Pay Period.

Presidential Materials

The following documents are from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Clinton Presidential Materials Project.16 These documents cover statements made by President William J. Clinton leading up to and during the November 1995 and December 1995–January 1996 government shutdowns; these documents are arranged by date.

Presidential Statements Related to FY1996 Shutdowns

The November 1995 Shutdown

Brief Historical Context:17 The November 1995 shutdown began on November 14, 1995, and ended on November 19, 1995. An estimated 800,000 federal employees were furloughed during the five full days of the shutdown.18 The furlough action was due to the expiration of a continuing resolution (P.L. 104-31), which funded the government through November 13, 1995. On November 13, President William Clinton vetoed a second continuing resolution (H.J.Res. 115) and a debt limit extension bill (H.R. 2586) and instructed agencies to begin shutdown operations. The following presidential statements occurred during this time period.

The December 1995–January 1996 Shutdown

Brief Historical Context:19 The December 1995–January 1996 shutdown began on December 16, 1995, and ended on January 6, 1996. The shutdown was triggered by the expiration of a continuing funding resolution enacted on November 20, 1995 (P.L. 104-56), which funded the government through December 15, 1995. This shutdown officially ended on January 6, with the passage of three continuing resolutions (CRs) (P.L. 104-91, P.L. 104-92, and P.L. 104-94). There were five additional short-term continuing resolutions needed to prevent further funding gaps from occurring through April 26, 1996, when the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-134) was enacted to fund any agencies or programs not yet funded through FY1996. The following presidential statements occurred during the time period of December 15, 1995, through January 6, 1996.

Presidential Statements Related to FY2014 Shutdown

Brief Historical Context:20 The most recent shutdown occurred at the beginning of FY2014, on October 1, 2013, and lasted for a total of 16 days. At the beginning of the fiscal year, none of the 12 regular appropriations bills for FY2014 were enacted. In addition, a continuing resolution to provide temporary funding for the previous year's projects and activities had also not been enacted. On September 30, however, an automatic continuing resolution was enacted that covered FY2014 pay and allowances for (1) certain members of the Armed Forces, (2) certain Department of Defense (DOD) civilian personnel, and (3) other specified DOD and Department of Homeland Security contractors (P.L. 113-39).21

A continuing resolution was signed into law (P.L. 113-46) on October 17, 2013, which ended the shutdown and allowed government departments and agencies to reopen. The following presidential statements occurred during the time period of September 30, 2013, through October 19, 2013, and included discussion of the shutdown.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Senior Research Librarian ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Senior Research Librarian ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Acknowledgments

Some of the descriptions within this report draw from CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, coordinated by [author name scrubbed]. [author name scrubbed] assisted by providing details within the brief historical context sections on the November 1995, December 1995-January 1996, and October 2013 shutdowns.

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

1.

Until 2004, GAO was called the General Accounting Office. For further information on the agency name change, see CRS Report RL30349, GAO: Government Accountability Office and General Accounting Office, by [author name scrubbed].

2.

Information about historical context in this section was provided by Clinton Brass. For more information on government shutdowns, see CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].

3.

Benjamin Civiletti was U.S. Attorney General from 1979 to 1981.

4.

The opinions stated that, with some exceptions, the head of an agency could avoid violating the Antideficiency Act only by suspending the agency's operations until the enactment of an appropriation. In the absence of appropriations, exceptions would be allowed only when there is "some reasonable and articulable connection between the function to be performed and the safety of human life or the protection of property." For discussion of exemptions, see U.S. GAO, Principles of Federal Appropriations Law, 3rd ed., vol., GAO-06-382SP, February 2006, ch. 6, pp. 6-146 - 6 -159, available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-06-382SP.

5.

U.S. General Accounting Office, Cost of the Recent Partial Shutdown of Government Offices, PAD-82-24, December 10, 1981, available at http://www.gao.gov/products/PAD-82-24.

6.

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Government Operation in the Event of a Lapse in Appropriations, memorandum from Walter Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General, for Alice Rivlin, Director, Office of Management and Budget, August 16, 1995. Reprinted in the hearing print at pp. 77-85.

7.

This hearing print includes inserted material from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Shutdown Plan, September 1995, pp. 80-90; VA, Agency Shutdown Guidance, August 14, 1995, pp. 119-131; VA, Lapse of Appropriation Furlough Guidance, September 19, 1995, pp. 132-151; and VA, Updated Plans for Implementing a Government Shutdown, December 14, 1995, pp. 354-374.

8.

This hearing includes an OMB letter with information about the effects of the shutdowns and counts of employees who were excepted and not excepted from furlough, pp. 266-270 and 272-274.

9.

Includes the text of H.R. 2677 and H.R. 2706, 104th Congress.

10.

Some of these documents have been reproduced within legislative branch documents mentioned within this report. See U.S. Congress, House and Senate Committees on the Budget, Effects of Potential Government Shutdown, hearing 104th Cong., 1st sess., September 19, 1995, pp. 77-85; U.S. General Accounting Office, Funding Gaps Jeopardize Federal Government Operations, Appendices V, VI, and VII; and U.S. Congress, House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Subcommittee on Civil Service, Government Shutdown I: What's Essential?, hearings, 104th Cong., 1st sess., December 6, and 14, 1995, pp. 99-112, 121-131, and 428-430.

11.

For the 1980 Civiletti opinion, see U.S. General Accounting Office, Funding Gaps Jeopardize Federal Government Operations, PAD-81-31, March 3, 1981, pp. 63-69, available at http://www.gao.gov/products/PAD-81-31.

12.

For the 1981 Civiletti opinion, see U.S. General Accounting Office, Funding Gaps Jeopardize Federal Government Operations, PAD-81-31, March 3, 1981, pp. 77-92, available at http://www.gao.gov/products/PAD-81-31.

13.

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Government Operation in the Event of a Lapse in Appropriations, memorandum from Walter Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General, for Alice Rivlin, Director, Office of Management and Budget, August 16, 1995, reprinted in U.S. Congress, House and Senate Committees on the Budget, Effects of Potential Government Shutdown, hearing, 104th Cong., 1st sess., September 19, 1995 (Washington: GPO, 1995), pp. 77-85, available at http://www.archive.org/details/effectsofpotenti00unit.

14.

U.S. Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Circular No. A-11, Section 124.1, July 2013, For the Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel document, see U.S. Congress, House and Senate Committees on the Budget, Effects of Potential Government Shutdown, hearing, 104th Cong., 1st sess., September 19, 1995 (Washington: GPO, 1995), pp. 77-85, available at http://www.archive.org/details/effectsofpotenti00unit. For more information on federal government shutdown causes, processes, and effects, see CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, coordinated by [author name scrubbed].

15.

An accompanying OMB blog post entitled Impacts and Costs of the Government Shutdown is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/11/07/impacts-and-costs-government-shutdown.

16.

The website notes that this has become part of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. See http://clinton.archives.gov/project_overview/project_overview.html. In 2000-2001, NARA created snapshots of the Clinton White House website including press releases, speeches, and publications. Some further information on the project can be found at http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2001/nr01-34.html.

17.

Information about the historical context in this section was provided by [author name scrubbed].

18.

See U.S. Congress, House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Subcommittee on Civil Service, Government Shutdown I: What's Essential?, hearings, 104th Cong., 1st sess., December 6, and 14, 1995, p 4.

19.

Information about the historical context in this section was provided by [author name scrubbed].

20.

Information about the historical context in this section was provided with the assistance of [author name scrubbed].

21.

For more information on automatic continuing resolutions see CRS Report R41948, Automatic Continuing Resolutions: Background and Overview of Recent Proposals, by [author name scrubbed].