HomeWashington Letter2018 ▶ What Happens In a Government Shutdown?
What Happens In a Government Shutdown?

The last federal government shutdown occurred in 2013, lasted 16 days and had significant negative effects on federal agencies, including the NIH and CDC, and on the economy.  In the event of a shutdown, around half of all federal employees will be placed on furlough and some programs and functions of the government will be closed and/or delayed. Individual agencies must decide which employees are “essential” and must continue working.

A government shutdown will significantly affect health and research-related agencies that the ATS works with, including NIH, CDC and the FDA. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a contingency plan for a government shutdown. Across HHS, about 50 percent of the HHS’s employees will be placed on furlough and 50 percent will continue to work. The number of staff working in each agency will vary depending on those that have a direct service component, such as the Indian Health Service, which will have more staff retained to ensure that direct health services continue.

At NIH, during a government shutdown, the agency cannot admit new patients for treatment at the Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, although the NIH director can deem a small number of patients medically necessary, and the institute cannot initiate new protocols or take action on grant applications or awards. A minimal number of essential NIH staff necessary for animal care, building maintenance and ongoing protocols will continue working in the event of a shutdown. It is estimated that less than 25 percent of NIH staff would continue to work.

A government shutdown will have significant negative effects on the CDC, foremost among them the influenza program - while the country is in the midst of a flu epidemic. The agency would be unable to operate the annual influenza program in states. Other CDC infectious disease outbreak detection in states and analysis of laboratory samples cannot be supported during a shutdown.

At the FDA, most food safety inspections will come to a halt, as will drug inspections and lab research. The FDA’s numerous scientific advisory committees will be unable to meet. But certain other HHS programs that receive funding separate from annual appropriations, such as HRSA’s community health centers around the states, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and child foster care programs, will continue operating. Social Security recipients will also continue receiving checks.

Last Reviewed: January 19, 2018