If Congress can’t come up with a deal to fund the federal government in about 48 hours, parts of the government will close. So how would U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos handle such a situation?
In a memo to department staff, DeVos said that more than 90 percent of total staff would be furloughed during the first week of any shutdown. During that week, DeVos said in her memo, her department would maintain “only those excepted functions related to the discharge of the duties of Presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals; those employees charged with the protection of life and property; and, as appropriate, the obligation, payment and support of student financial aid as well as other authorized payments and obligations.”
And what if the shutdown lasts longer than a week? DeVos would then bring back additional staff—up to 6 percent of the current number of employees—in order to “prevent significant damage to the underlying activity.” But here’s a part of the memo that’s more important as far as how schools would function in a shutdown lasting longer than a week:
A protracted delay in Department obligations and payments beyond one week would severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the Department’s funds to support their services. For example, many school districts receive more than 20 percent of their funds from Department-funded programs. ... Under a shutdown, the likely disruption to Department grant programs will be a potential delay in activities necessary to make competitive and formula grant awards later in the fiscal year. For the most part, these employees will be furloughed. In addition, citizens and institutions seeking specific information regarding the impact of a shutdown will have limited access to information.
In other words, expect education groups to start making a lot of noise if a shutdown were to last longer than just a few days—if they haven’t gotten noisy already.
DeVos’ memo notes that the department’s plan is similar to contingency plans made in 1996, 2011, 2013, and 2016. We’ve written up how the department would handle shutdowns a few times over the past year or so. It’s also possible that in the next few days lawmakers will agree to a short-term extension of current spending levels beyond Jan. 19 until they can come up with a longer-term solution.
Fun fact: The memo states that as of last October, there were 3,943 full- and part-time employees. That number might be smaller now, given that the department offered buyouts and early retirement to over 250 employees.
Read DeVos’ full memo to the department about shutdown plans.