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What Happens if Congress Fails the Military and Forces a Government Shutdown?

On September 19, 2023, Stars and Stripes reported on a Pentagon statement about a potential government shutdown if the House and Senate cannot reach a deal to approve more money for the federal government by the September 30 deadline when the current fiscal year’s federal funding runs out.

“The U.S. military will keep active-duty troops and a limited number of civilian defense employees at their posts during a federal government shutdown,” Stripes.com reported, adding that troops may have to go without pay until lawmakers reach a deal to end such a shutdown.

Why Could the Federal Government Shut Down?

Lawmakers in the House and Senate must agree on a federal spending bill and send it to the President’s desk for signature or veto.

At press time, there has been no agreed-upon spending bill to send to the President due in part to the addition of riders and attachments to proposed funding bills that have no relevance where funding the government is strictly concerned. Opposition to the riders and add-ons, as well as opposition to the removal of those riders is a key problem in reaching an agreement.

Some lawmakers seem intent on holding the budget hostage for their own political ends, while others decry any delay in the spending bill as needlessly complicating the lives of federal employees, public servants, and the military.

At the end of the day, the reasons won’t matter, only the lack of federal funds to pay troops and civilians.

The End of Fiscal Year 2023

The fiscal year ends on September 30. If funding or temporary funding is not passed by then, all activities under “appropriated funds” would stop.

All government work with funding would continue until that funding runs out, and typically, the only operations allowed without new federal funds are those “necessary for the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

Do Troops Get Paid During a Government Shutdown?

It is easy to assume troops would still be paid during a government shutdown. That’s due in part to a move during a similar shutdown in 2013, where last-minute funding spared military members from losing their paychecks.

But in 2023, that is not guaranteed to happen, and it’s entirely likely that without such a move, troops could have to wait to be paid until the federal budget standoff ends.

What Do Troops Do During A Government Shutdown?

In August 2023, the DoD issued a contingency plan for a government shutdown, which includes the following requirements should the federal government shut down after September 30, 2023:

“Military personnel on active duty, including reserve component personnel on Federal active duty, will continue to report for duty and carry out assigned duties.”

That directive also includes instructions for Guard and Reserve troops.

“Reserve component personnel performing Active Guard Reserve (AGR) duty will continue to report for duty to carry out AGR authorized duties for the period of their AGR tour.” Reserve members “will not perform inactive duty resulting in the obligation of funds, except where such duty directly supports an excepted activity and may not be ordered to or extended on active duty, including AGR duty.”

There are exceptions, including “support of military operations and activities “necessary for national security or disaster response, including fulfilling associated pre-deployment requirements.”

Shutdown Rules for Federal Civilian Employees

DoD civilian employees not deemed essential to “excepted activities” are typically furloughed during a government shutdown.

“Civilian personnel, including military technicians, who are not necessary to carry out or support excepted activities, are to be furloughed using lapse in appropriations (often called emergency shutdown) procedures and guidance provided by the Office of Personnel Management. Only the minimum number of civilian employees necessary to carry out excepted activities will be excepted from furlough.”

Permanent Change of Station Moves During a Government Shutdown

Some due to PCS soon might wonder if a government shutdown might interfere with their moving to the next permanent duty station. DoD guidance in these circumstances is clear:

“Permanent change of station (PCS) for civilian personnel will continue only to the extent expenses are chargeable to a funded PCS order issued prior to the funds lapse. Expenses for movement of civilian personnel chargeable to lapsed appropriations will be limited…”

If you are unsure how this policy affects your PCS move, contact your Command Support Staff or base Finance Office to learn more.

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.