As a federal government shutdown looms, the Obama administration is gearing up to stop doing business.
In a telephone briefing that finished just a few minutes ago, a senior administration official said that this weekend's Cherry Blossom Parade in Washington, D.C. would not go on, and national parks would close. But just how the shutdown would affect the U.S. Department of Education and its programs remains very unclear.
So far, your intrepid Politics K-12 reporters have not gotten answers to basic questions, such as: How many personnel are considered essential, and what kind of people are they? What will be the impact on federally managed student loans? And what about programs that are not funded in advance, such as Impact Aid? The U.S. Department of Education won't answer these questions, referring all inquiries to the OMB, which also hasn't responded to repeated requests and is no doubt swamped with similar questions from thousands of other reporters.
Very broadly, the administration says the only programs that would continue to run are those that operate via other funding sources (such as user fees, or appropriations that are not annual), and those activities that ensure safety of life and protection of property (such as the military). Since student loans are funded through mandatory money, we think this could mean the program would be largely unaffected by a shutdown. However, we are not certain, and are still waiting for answers from OMB and the Department of Education. Anyone? Anyone?
Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to his employees, letting them know they'd find out Friday just how they'd be impacted. See the text of the letter at the bottom of this entry.
So, if you work at the Department of Education, feel free to leave a comment or email me and let me know how the agency will be affected.
Text of letter from Arne Duncan
I know that many of you have questions and concerns regarding the status of a potential government shutdown and how it could affect you. The President has made it clear that he does not want a government shutdown, and the Administration is willing and ready to work day and night to find a solution that all sides can agree to. In the event that Congress does not pass a spending bill, there may be a temporary shutdown of government. We are preparing for this, even as we remain hopeful it will not occur.
The President and I know that the uncertainty around the situation puts many of you and your families in a difficult position, and are very aware that a shutdown would impose hardships on many employees as well as the schools, colleges, and universities we serve across the country. As the clock runs out on our current funding bill, we will provide you with updated information as soon as it becomes available. For now, I want to provide you with initial information on how the potential shutdown - should it occur - would affect Federal employees.
As soon as funding lapses, Federal departments and agencies will not be permitted to incur further financial obligations with regard to performing activities funded by annual appropriations, except those related to the orderly suspension of operations or performance of excepted activities. This means that some employees will be furloughed and unable to work. Our contingency planning for the potential funding lapse includes determining which agency functions are excepted from a furlough. If it should become necessary to implement our contingency plans, you will receive formal notice from your manager no later than Friday, April 8, regarding the designation of your position and furlough status.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has created a document to address some of the questions that I know must be on your mind. The document can be accessed at www.opm.gov/furlough2011
In the meantime, I urge us all to stay focused on our core mission to support excellence in education. Your contributions touch people's lives in so many significant ways, and I want you to know how deeply I appreciate your dedication and your hard work. Thanks so much for your many efforts and your continuing commitment to students.