When Congress and the president failed to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through the start of the new fiscal year, several federal transportation programs were adversely affected. Fortunately, because Federal Highway Administration employees and the federal highway program are supported by the Highway Trust Fund, and not the general fund, all federal-aid highway and bridge projects should continue without interruption. Transit, rail and aviation programs and employees, however, are not so fortunate.
Of the more than 55,000 people employed by the U.S. Department of Transportation around the country, approximately 18,000 have been furloughed. This includes more than 15,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers, but the U.S. air traffic control system should remain fully operational.
The U.S. Labor Department’s contingency plan for the Mine Safety and Health Administration is to keep nearly 40% of agency personnel on, claiming that they perform “key functions.” In a planning document for shutdown, the agency said that these functions fit the Department of Justice criterion that there is a reasonable likelihood that safety of life and property would be compromised if the functions are not performed. The accepted MSHA activities “directly involve protecting against imminent threats to life in the nation’s mines, which are necessary for the protection of government property.”
This means the agency would retain 768 employees for inspections of targeted mines and specific hazards: for example, investigations of accidents and mines’ complaints, and sample analysis. Among those to be retailed are a total of 138 managers, including 87 field office supervisors and 51 members of senior management. Also, 10% of the personnel in the Office of the Solicitor would continue to work.
When Congress finally reaches an agreement over the government shutdown, the next fiscal crisis set to consume the oxygen in Washington will be over increasing the debt limit. The U.S. Department of the Treasury estimates the borrowing authority of the United States will be reached as early as Oct. 17.
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