You may want to make a note on your calendar for Oct. 1 to see what, if any, federal food safety programs are still running.
That’s because if Congress has not either passed a new budget for fiscal year 2024 or put enough Continuing Resolutions in place, another government shutdown will be underway. For the significant federal food safety agencies, a government shutdown likely won’t mean shutting off the lights, but they will be dimmed.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will likely continue its continuous inspections of fresh meat and poultry, while the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will go through exercises to determine which employees are “essential.”
Furlough-causing shutdowns are becoming more common. From 1980 to 1990, and again in 2013 when the Democrats controlled Congress, various federal governments experienced six shutdowns for all or parts of 23 days.
Beginning in 1995, Congress, controlled by the Republicans, let the government shut down four times with furloughs lasting 64 days. Under divided control in 2013, a 16-day shutdown played out.
The past suggests government shutdowns are occurring more often for more extensive periods. Here are some answers from Steven Grossman, Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger. FDA about food safety in the possible government shutdown:
Q: Apart from the lack of progress on a Continuing Resolution (CR), were there other reasons to conclude that the likelihood of a government shutdown increased this week?
A: At some point, political forces will align, and a CR will be adopted. Later, presumably, appropriations funding bills will be enacted. However, very little occurred publicly this week to suggest movement toward compromise or even agreement on a short-term CR to buy more time.
Like these kinds of disagreements, the resolution and timing are opaque until they happen. So, it is possible that a shutdown can be avoided, but that seems less and less likely.
Q: What are the categories of federal employees in a shutdown?
A: There are three categories:
Exempt — Employees are “exempt” from furlough if not affected by a lapse in appropriations. This includes employees whose functions are not funded by annually appropriated funds and would include employees carrying out activities funded by user fees.
Excepted — “Excepted” is used broadly to refer to employees whose work is funded through annual appropriations but who are not furloughed because they are performing tasks that, by law, are allowed to continue during a lapse in appropriations. The OMB guidance on this can vary from year to year, but these will be FDA staffers working in areas where their absence would threaten public health and safety or property.
Furloughed — A furlough places an employee in a temporary non-duty, non-pay status because of lack of work, funds, or other nondisciplinary reasons. Again, year-to-year definitions might vary, but most individuals involved in developing regulations or conducting administrative or policy work will be furloughed.
Q: We have heard a reference to essential personnel. How is that determined?
A: Essential personnel is a term that applies to federal employees who are expected at work during a weather emergency. It is not a term used with shutdowns based on lapsed funding authority.
Informally, “excepted employees” are sometimes referred to as “essential personnel,” and furloughed employees are sometimes referred to as “non-essential personnel.”
Grossman predicts that in the end, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will have no choice but to compromise with the Senate, moderate Republicans, and Democrats.
And that prediction may be playing out as the Speaker on Tuesday pulled a short-term stopgap measure because his divided House majority of only four votes was stalled.
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Editor’s Note: The name of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA was mangled by mistake in the earlier version of this story.