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Sunday, April 14, 2024

A short-term shutdown of Defense Department activities caused by a funding lapse this weekend.

AutoA short-term shutdown of Defense Department activities caused by a funding lapse this weekend.

A short-term shutdown of Defense Department activities caused by a funding lapse this weekend could lead to headaches for some military personnel and family members.House and Senate lawmakers are working to pass a full-year defense appropriations bill on Friday ahead of an 11:59 p.m. deadline when federal funds will expire. The $1.2 trillion bill — $825 billion of which has been set aside for military spending — was unveiled Thursday and may take several days to finalize because of parliamentary rules.

That means that some Defense Department offices and missions could be curtailed, starting Saturday morning. Members of both congressional chambers are expected to work throughout Friday to avoid that scenario.

However, Pentagon officials said they plan to send out guidance to offices sometime Friday warning them of the potential partial shutdown. That guidance remains unchanged from last fall, when similar guidelines were shared ahead of an expected lapse in appropriations that was ultimately avoided with hours to spare.

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The most severe effects of a partial Defense Department shutdown — issues like widespread furloughs of civilian employees and delays in processing troops’ paychecks — won’t go into effect unless the shutdown extends into Monday.

That includes, Kogan said, lawmakers fixing an overpayment issue for the VA and the Indian Health Service in last week’s funding package, changes in mandatory spending he said helped offset government funding, as well as temporarily more emergency spending.

“We were running too high. Why were we looking at a 5.4 percent cut instead of a 1 percent cut? Well, there were a couple of things going on,” Kogan told The Hill.

“We were running too high because we had over-appropriated to the VA and to Indian Health Services and facilities, and we were also running too high because we were bringing in less lower housing receipts than expected and so those things as a team basically were leading to there to be an issue.”

But some disruption may still occur. DOD’s official guidance warns that some nonessential National Guard and reserve operations could be canceled if additional funds aren’t made available.

“Reserve component personnel will not perform [non-active] duty resulting in the obligation of funds … and may not be ordered to, or extended on, active duty except in support of military operations and activities necessary for national security or disaster response,” the planning document states.

Troops and civilian defense employees traveling to conferences could see those plans scuttled. Any planned visits by foreign officials to defense locations over the weekend will be canceled, unless officials can show they are “directly supporting excepted national security operations.”

Congressional travel with the military to overseas locations would also be suspended, though that issue is likely moot as most lawmakers will stay in Washington until an appropriations plan is complete.

Past shutdowns have forced the closure of some medical offices and child care centers, but those are not expected to be disrupted over the weekend.

Commissary stores will remain open this weekend, Defense Commissary Agency spokeswoman Tressa Smith said.

“In the event of a lapse in appropriation, military commissaries can continue full operation for a period of up to 60 days or until all DeCA working capital cash reserves are exhausted,” Smith said.

Activities and organizations funded entirely by nonappropriated funds, such as many morale, welfare and recreation activities and the military exchanges, generally won’t be affected. The exchanges are largely funded by sales revenue, and part of their profits help fund some MWR activities.

If lawmakers can finalize the budget before the Friday night deadline, the next round of government shutdown threats won’t come until Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Wednesday that funding for nondefense programs will not be subject to automatic spending cuts even if Congress doesn’t pass its remaining six spending bills by an April 30 deadline.

The forecast is a potentially important one in the ongoing funding fight between Republicans and Democrats, which could lead to a partial government shutdown next weekend.

Over the weekend, Biden signed a package that contained six of the 12 annual government funding bills, approving full-year funding for the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Commerce and Energy, among other offices.

The six bills were written from a spending top-line agreement largely in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the bipartisan debt limit deal hashed out last year that included spending caps for Congress to work from for fiscal 2024.

Lawmakers are still working to strike a deal on the remaining six bills, which includes funding for the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Homeland Security.

In the meantime, those offices are being funded through a stopgap measure that freezes spending at fiscal 2023 levels.

Factoring in that stopgap, along with the funding bills passed last week, the CBO said that “nondefense funding in those acts is $3 billion below” the $736 billion cap, adding, “so no sequestration of nondefense budgetary resources would be required.”

Bobby Kogan, senior director of federal budget policy for the Center for American Progress, cited three factors that contributed to funding for nondefense programs now running lower than the cap.

That includes, Kogan said, lawmakers fixing an overpayment issue for the VA and the Indian Health Service in last week’s funding package, changes in mandatory spending he said helped offset government funding, as well as temporarily more emergency spending.

“We were running too high. Why were we looking at a 5.4 percent cut instead of a 1 percent cut? Well, there were a couple of things going on,” Kogan told The Hill.

“We were running too high because we had over-appropriated to the VA and to Indian Health Services and facilities, and we were also running too high because we were bringing in less lower housing receipts than expected and so those things as a team basically were leading to there to be an issue.”

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