Note: This story was last updated at 1:35 p.m.
A possible government shutdown is looming with federal funding expiring today, but the U.S. Department of Energy, which has facilities in Oak Ridge, said it will be open for business on Monday.
For now, federal employees are expected to continue to report for work as scheduled, DOE said in a shutdown plan posted on its website Friday. That approach appeared similar to DOE’s guidance during the last shutdown more than four years ago.
But “a prolonged lapse in appropriations may require subsequent employee furloughs,” DOE said of this year’s possible shutdown on Friday. “If there is an imminent threat to human life or protection of property, a limited number of employees may be recalled from furlough status.”
Federal sites in Oak Ridge include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, the Oak Ridge Office, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, Office of Scientific and Technical Information, and East Tennessee Technology Park, the former K-25 site, among others. Those are DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration sites, and they include a mix of federal and contractor employees. There is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility on South Illinois Avenue.
The last federal government shutdown was in October 2013, when Y-12 started an “orderly shutdown” and ORNL prepared for a possible temporary shutdown and unpaid furloughs. The shutdown activities were supposed to put the nuclear weapons plant into a safe and secure status. DOE said then that it expected federal employees to continue reporting for work unless there was a lapse in appropriations and all available money was spent. And former ORNL Director Thom Mason told employees of UT-Battelle, which manages the lab, to report to work starting October 1 that year (the start of the fiscal year), even if the government shut down, because ORNL had enough funding to continue operating.
DOE has posted a contingency plan in case there is a shutdown this year here. The department said it will be able to shut down all non-excepted federal functions within a half day after available balances have been exhausted, with some exceptions involving the movement of nuclear materials.
“However, it will take longer than a half day to do that for some contractor-performed activities in order to protect property,” the DOE plan said. “For example, some large equipment may need to be cooled down before it can be shutdown, while other equipment may need to stay operational at a low level in order for it not to be permanently damaged.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a monthlong spending bill Thursday, but it had not passed the Senate as of Friday afternoon, less than 12 hours before a midnight deadline.
Friday morning, the U.S. Department of Energy said it had received guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget to notify DOE employees and contractors of the department’s plans if government funding lapses.
“Bottom line: the Department of Energy will be open for business on Monday,” DOE said.
DOE said most of its appropriations are “multi-year or no-year.”
DOE has a written order titled “Plan for Operating in the Event of a Lapse in Appropriations (DOE Order 137.1B)” that addresses its plan and procedures for:
- continuing operations using balances from prior years, if available, during a lapse in appropriations, and
- when all available balances have been used:
- (a) continuing only those excepted functions related to emergencies that involve the safety of human life or the protection of property, and
- (b) starting an orderly shutdown of those activities not considered excepted.
The order was issued on September 30, 2011, and it was last reviewed on August 3, 2015. It can be read here.
Oak Ridge Today contacted local sites and federal agencies on Thursday and Friday this week to try to get more information about what steps were being taken to prepare for a potential shutdown. Among the sites and agencies we contacted were DOE, DOE Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, NNSA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, White House Office of Management and Budget, and Y-12.
Here is a message forwarded by DOE on Friday:
Planning for Potential Lapse in Funding
As many of you are aware, annual funding for the government expires today (Friday, January 19). The administration does not believe it is necessary for a lapse in funding to occur, and looks forward to working with the Congress to finalize appropriations for this year.
However, prudent management requires that we be prepared for all contingencies, including the possibility that a lapse could occur. A lapse would mean that a number of government activities would cease due to a lack of appropriated funding, and that a number of federal employees could be temporarily furloughed. As we approach the end of the CR (continuing resolution, a temporary spending measure), we are committed to providing you with updated and timely information on any further developments.
All DOE federal employees are expected to report to work on your next scheduled work day and subsequent work days unless you have previously approved leave or are given formal notice by your management not to report to work. Similarly, contractors should continue to execute on contracts unless and until otherwise notified. The Department’s shutdown plan has been posted on our website: https://energy.gov/articles/department-energy-implementation-activities-case-lapse-appropriations-0
Thank you for your hard work, dedication, and patience through this process, and for all that you do for the Department of Energy and the American people.
In 2013, DOE said most excepted employees are connected to NNSA programs falling significantly into three program areas: maintenance and safeguarding of nuclear weapons, international non-proliferation activities, and servicing deployed naval reactors. It’s not clear if that is still how they are defined. The NNSA, which oversees Y-12, is a semi-autonomous agency within DOE.
The plan posted Friday said the Office of Secure Transportation, which is part of NNSA and responsible for transporting the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, will ensure that the stockpile is in secure locations and will recall employees as needed if nuclear weapons must be transported during the lapse and if there is a lapse of appropriation and prior year balances are expended.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
See our previous stories on the federal government shutdown here.
See the DOE implementation plan if there is an appropriations lapse here.
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