Trump administration officials are determined to keep large segments of the government open even after Congress failed to approve a funding bill late Friday night, saying they don’t want to “weaponIze” the government shutdown to score political points.
If lawmakers remain deadlocked over the weekend, most government employees have been instructed to arrive at work Monday morning for a few hours to close up shop. Some agencies, including the Department of Interior and Centers for Disease Control, will continue to provide some services for as long as they can with the money they have.
The tactic to keep doors open for as long as possible is a departure from the government shutdown of 2013, when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, made a show of closing national parks and other public-facing facilities in an effort to increase pressure on Republicans to cut a deal.
“The Obama administration weaponized the shutdown in 2013,” Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Friday. “The only conclusion I can draw is they did so for political purposes. So it will look different this time around.”
On Saturday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was on the National Mall tweeting about National Park Service workers on the job this morning. Zinke, who said he will keep as many public lands open as possible, bumped into workers heading out for the trash pick-up on the Mall and
chatted with visitors at the World War II Memorial, where veterans had stormed barricades in 2013 to protest that year’s shutdown.
Mulvaney said he has encouraged agencies to use funds they already have to keep providing as many services to the public as possible, which he said was a departure from the Obama administration’s approach in 2013.
“They did not encourage agencies to use carry forward funds, funds that they were sitting on, nor did they encourage agencies to use transfer authority,” Mulvaney said. “They could have made the shutdown in 2013 much less impactful, but they chose to make it worse.”
Still, plans for the shutdown seem to vary widely across agencies and it’s not clear that President Donald Trump or his administration has an overriding strategy. Smithsonian Institution museums are open today, for example, but some national monuments, including the
Statue of Liberty and Ellis island, aren’t.
And with little time to prepare for Friday night’s vote, in which Congress failed to approve short-term operating funds, decision making at some federal agencies remains fluid.
The Centers for Disease Control late Friday reversed an earlier decision to shut down support to states and localities during one of the worst flu seasons in recent memory. As midnight Friday approached, the center amended its plans to ensure “immediate response to urgent disease outbreaks, including seasonal influenza.” CDC will continue collect and distribute data to help state and local health officials combat the flu, the center’s updated contingency
Other agencies said they’ll do what they can to keep operating.
The Federal Communications Commission will tap unused funds to stay open through at least next Friday, an agency spokesman said. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which is funded by user fees, will open its doors Monday. “In the event of a shutdown, the USPTO will remain open and operate as normal,” agency spokesman Paul Fucito said.
At the Department of Defense, Secretary Jim Mattis urged members of the armed forces and other defense employees to “hold the line” as the Pentagon continued key military missions and curtailed others.
“We will continue to execute daily operations around the world — ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists,” Mattis said in a memo shortly the midnight shutdown Friday.
During the shutdown, active-duty troops and some civilians performing critical jobs will continue to work, but won’t be paid. Other civilian employees will be furloughed.
Several agencies with lower public profiles, including the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Education, instructed employees to show up Monday for a few hours of shutdown preparation, such as handing off duties to higher-up essential personnel and writing out-of-office replies for email.
In a videotaped message to staff, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson decried the politics of the shutdown but said said payments to HUD-assisted households would continue.
“No one will be displaced because of the shutdown,” Carson said. Politics should not interfere with the support we provide.”
At the Department of Homeland Security, employees were told to complete their timesheets by the end of the week and learned who would be furloughed.
“It’s pretty demoralizing, which is not what we need right now,” one DHS official said.
Staffers in the ombudsman’s office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services worked Friday to process urgent requests. While most of USCIS will remain operational during a shutdown, the ombudsman’s office – which provides individual immigration case assistance — will halt its work.
Air traffic controllers were deemed essential and showed up for work today, but more than 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors had been furloughed as of midnight, according to the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union. Sales and maintenance of plans came to a halt.
The FAA said there would be “no immediate impact on critical safety functions.”
And the hundreds of thousands of government employees who will keep working won’t be collecting pay as long as the shutdown continues.
“The military will still go to work. They will not get paid. The border will still be patrolled. They will not get paid. Folks will still be fighting the fires out West. They will not get paid. The parks will be open. People won’t get paid,” Mulvaney said. “We are going to manage the shutdown differently. We are not going to weaponize it. We’re not going to try and hurt people, especially people who happen to work for this federal government.”
Adam Cancryn, Margaret Harding McGill, Nancy Scola, Li Zhou, Connor O’Brien, Benjamin Wermund, Kathryn Wolfe and Ted Hesson contributed reporting.
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