Government Shutdown (Part 2)

The partial US government shutdown is over . . . for now . . .  maybe, sort of.

Congress and the current Administration have agreed to fund the approximately one-fourth of the US Federal Government that is not already funded through the end of the current fiscal year – but only for an additional three weeks, through February 15.  The agreement also includes back pay for Federal employees who went unpaid during the recent 35-day shutdown.

However, there is – so far – no clear picture of what may happen after February 15.  Some possibilities include:

  • A compromise that includes funding of all remaining departments and agencies through the end of the current fiscal year.  Many observers consider this the least likely short-term outcome.

  • Long-term or short-term funding of some or all departments and agencies except Homeland Security, which is the agency through which any “border wall” funding would be channeled.  And since Homeland Security includes US Customs, any “non-essential” functions of Customs would promptly go back on shutdown status.

  • Reinstatement of the previous shutdown, for all previously affected agencies, with all previous issues re-opened and no meaningful progress made.  (Except that several hundred thousand Federal employees would presumably have received their paychecks covering the period of the first shutdown, with an additional check to cover their pay through February 15).

For each of the affected agencies, recovery from the shutdown is likely to be much slower in some areas of their operations, than in others.  For example, many types of equipment that were not operated during the shutdown may have to be checked, adjusted, maintained, and even re-calibrated before they can be returned to operational use.  Facilities as diverse as forest hiking trails and complex nationwide computer systems will require inspection, and often a significant amount of maintenance, before they can be fully used again by either agency staff, or the public the agency serves.

The time and actions required to return specific types of agency activities to their “normal” state will vary greatly, both from one agency to another, and within different parts of the same agency.  At many locations, “digging out from under” accumulations of incoming messages and documents – both paper and electronic – will be a major issue.  (Some observers have suggested that just the current 35-day accumulation may take the Internal Revenue Service as much as a year to clean up.  For other agencies, the time required seems likely to range from a minimum of a few days or weeks in some units, to several months in others.)

In many cases, the time required to return agency systems to full operating capacity will be more than the three weeks between the end of one shutdown, and the possible start of another.  If there is a second shutdown, the time (and cost) of recovery after that seems likely to be even greater than what is required after the first one. 

At any agencies (including US Customs) affected by a second shutdown, we can expect much the same as what happened during the first one:

  • Automated systems continue to accept data transmissions, as long as the systems are working.

  • For transactions referred for human review, that review (and any responses) may be delayed.

  • Even functions performed by “essential” employees are likely to run slower and less efficiently than usual, with higher than normal levels of absenteeism among agency staff.

Transmark Customs Brokers will be closely observing events through February 15, including any possible short-term funding extensions for any of the agencies directly affected by the first shutdown.  We are prepared to help current and prospective clients evaluate the potential effects of a second shutdown of the same agencies (or any portion of them) on these clients’ import and export operations.  Please feel free to contact us at any time, to discuss how any of the potential “next steps” in this continuing confrontation could affect you.