Cost of the Recent Partial Shutdown of Government Offices

PAD-82-24: Published: Dec 10, 1981. Publicly Released: Dec 10, 1981.

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In response to congressional requests, GAO contacted 13 cabinet departments and 12 selected agencies and offices to obtain information about the costs of the recent partial shutdown of government offices ordered by the President as a result of the impasse over the continuing resolution to fund government operations for fiscal year 1982.

Data on the number of employees furloughed and the costs of implementing a shutdown were neither readily available nor easily obtainable. The various agencies and offices providing data did not necessarily provide them in the same format; and some reported the number of furloughed employees, but not the costs of paying administrative leave. Prior to 1980, agencies would continue to operate and incur obligations for necessary operations pending approval of a continuing resolution or an appropriations act. However, since the Attorney General's opinions of 1980 and 1981, agencies began to shut down those operations which are not necessary for the protection of life and property in the absence of appropriations. In 1981, GAO recommended that Congress enact permanent legislation to authorize agencies to incur obligations, but not expend funds, when agency appropriations expire. Such legislation would avoid the disruptions of the last 3 years and preserve the funding authority and the discretion of Congress. A longer range answer to the problem would be to make adjustments to the congressional budget process to allow Congress to pass appropriations measures before existing funding expires. These adjustments could include shifting authorization and appropriation cycles to 2 years or more and/or staggering cycles to reduce the number of annual funding decisions which Congress must make.