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Government Shutdown Would Force Recall Of Some Federal Workers Overseas

This morning on the Senate floor, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) tried to downplay the effects of a government shutdown, which now seems all but assured. Kyl said if there was a shutdown, it would likely be brief, and “while there would be some dislocations and inconveniences, I do think the media exaggerates a little bit the result of a shutdown over the weekend.”

Unfortunately, however, even a brief shutdown could have wide-ranging and expensive effects. The Constitution forbids any funds from leaving the U.S. Treasury if they haven’t been appropriated by Congress, and so all non-essential government services will cease immediately in the event of an appropriations lapse. In some cases, this means requiring federal workers all over the globe to return home immediately.

For example, NASA researchers in Greenland who are monitoring Arctic land and sea ice would have to return to the United States right away, and bring all of their equipment with them. Their work is aimed at quantifying the loss of Arctic ice due to global warming, and their mission may have to be abandoned entirely:

“ALL NASA IceBridge personnel now in Greenland would return home if there is a government shutdown,” agency spokesman Steve Cole said in an email yesterday.

That means sending NASA’s P-3B research plane back to the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore. The space agency’s King Air plane would return to its home at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Reassembling IceBridge scientists, planes and crew in Greenland would be “a pretty big production,” he said. “It takes several flights just for delivering people and cargo.”

It’s doubtful that NASA — which, like the rest of the federal government, has operated under a series of temporary funding measures since October — would be able to find the cash to pay for those flights.

Also, some overseas workers with with the Federal Trade Commission — which promotes consumer protection, and policies anti-competitive business practices — would also have to return home:

Those employees in a travel status, including those overseas on short and long-term assignments, will be contacted and instructed, as appropriate, either to stay where they are (although in a furloughed status) or to return to their duty stations at the earliest practicable opportunity.

Yesterday, Steve Benen reported that even the threat of a shutdown is forcing many government agencies to create contingency plans to take their websites offline, which will incur significant expenses.

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The Republican position that this standoff is about spending is already hard to believe, since the amount of cuts have already been agreed upon and negotiations are stuck on “riders” that would restrict funding of women’s health services. It’s even further undercut by the fact the shutdown will actually increase government spending.