December 21, 2018

UPDATE: What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Shutdown – International Affairs Edition

By Jennie Bragg

With time running out for Congress to meet a midnight funding deadline, the possibility of a partial government shutdown looms large. And though many in Washington are holding out hope for a last-minute deal to keep much of the government – including the State Department and USAID – open, it’s worth taking a look at how a shutdown would impact America’s diplomatic and development programs overseas.

The State Department issued guidance, as did USAID, stating that certain “excepted” functions may continue during a shutdown – including those functions “necessary for emergencies involving ‘the safety of human life or the protection of property,’ and those necessary for activities essential to national security, including the conduct of foreign affairs essential to national security.”

Specifically, we can expect:

  • U.S. embassies and consulates would remain open and largely operational
  • Non-essential employees at the State Department, USAID and other development agencies would have to cease work
  • Passport and visa processing would continue as usual – because these are fee-based services (unless a passport agency is located in a government building closed due to the shutdown)
  • USAID missions and projects would move forward so long as they are currently funded through multi-year or no-year funds
  • Ongoing humanitarian assistance would continue as long as existing funds remain available
  • No new funding commitments or obligations should be made except to protect life and property
  • No new job offers can be made
  • In general, no public events or speeches. Communications with the media are permitted for essential national security-related issues including to protect life and property

A brief funding lapse would likely not have an immediate, significant impact on America’s global footprint. This would be due in large part to accounts that allow funds to be spent over a multi-year period or even indefinitely (often referred to as “no-year” funds). As long as existing funds remain available, the State Department and USAID could continue most operations in the short-term.

But the consequences of a prolonged lapse in funding could be more severe. The longer we go without a new funding bill, the more likely it is that additional personnel will be furloughed at home and abroad – for example, during the 1995-1996 government shutdown, some overseas government facilities were closed completely. And without the authority to issue new funding commitments, we run the risk of being not only unable to continue existing development projects, but also unable to address emerging humanitarian emergencies.

With the threat of famine in some of the most unstable countries in the world, mass atrocities in Burma, a growing global refugee crisis, and conflicts across the Middle East – millions at home and abroad are counting on American diplomats and development workers. Now more than ever before, America needs a fully funded International Affairs Budget in order to address the numerous and growing challenges America faces overseas.

*An earlier version of this blog was posted in January 2018 by Megan Rabbitt