International trade, the (partial) US Government shutdown, and you

As we have all seen during the last several days, the current Administration and Congress have been engaging in a budget stand-off which has resulted in a partial US Federal Government shutdown.  Although several Federal departments and agencies have already been funded for the rest of the current fiscal year, several others have not.  These other departments had been operating on interim funding until just before Christmas, when the Administration and Congress failed to agree on either:

  • an extension of interim funding to a date a few weeks (or perhaps months) in the future; or

  • regular funding for the rest of the current fiscal year.

Because several of the largest departments and agencies, which employ a substantial majority of US government workers, are already fully funded for the rest of the fiscal year, the shutdown will have little or no effect on:

  • those departments and agencies; or

  • their employees; or

  • the services they provide to members of the international trade community.

However, several other Federal government departments, which are affected by the partial shutdown, include numerous agencies which deal with portions of routine import and customs operations.  These departments include:


  • Treasury

  • Agriculture

  • Interior

  •  State

  •  Transportation

Various independent agencies (not part of a Federal department) are also affected, including several that also deal with import and customs operations, such as:

  • Consumer Product Safety Commission

  • Federal Communications Commission (currently funded only through January 2, 2019)

  • Federal Maritime Commission

  • International Trade Commission

 Although details vary from agency to agency, most Federal agencies affected by the partial shutdown have adopted contingency plans.  These plans commonly include provisions that:

  • automated systems, including automated licensing and similar functions which do not require regular human oversight, will continue to run; but

  • automated systems that go down will not be brought back up to functionality, or otherwise maintained, until after the shutdown is over; and

  • any "non-essential" agency staff, which will generally include most staff performing "back office" type functions, will be furloughed until the shutdown is over.

In general, most affected agencies' automated systems will continue to accept automated data transmissions from customs entry filers and other parties.  If the data meets the agency's existing criteria for purely automated response (such as a release of that agency's interest in the shipment, or a hold for additional documentation), most affected agencies' systems will return the appropriate type of automated response.  However, data automatically routed for human review and decision-making will generally not be reviewed, or responded to, until the shutdown is over.

If the shutdown continues for more than a few additional days, which seems likely at this point, we will probably receive additional updates from at least some of the affected agencies.  However, anything that requires human decision-making is likely remain "on hold" until the affected agency is funded again, and the agency staff have returned to work – and are wading through the accumulated list of issues requiring human action to resolve them.  And, the longer the shutdown (and therefore, the greater the size of the likely backlog), the longer it is likely to take to resolve those accumulated issues.

Transmark Customs Brokers is prepared to help current and prospective clients evaluate the potential effects of this (partial) government shutdown on these clients’ import and export operations.  We are ready to work with clients to identify possible work-arounds and other contingency plans, to minimize the effect of this shutdown on clients’ businesses.