Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects

Source: Clinton T. Brass, Congressional Research Service (CRS), CRS Report to Congress, RL34680, September 25, 2013

When federal agencies and programs lack appropriated funding, they experience a funding gap. Under the Antideficiency Act, they must cease operations, except in certain emergency situations or when law authorizes continued activity. Failure of the President and Congress to reach agreement on interim or full-year funding measures occasionally has caused government shutdowns, the longest of which lasted 21 full days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy. This report discusses the causes, processes, and effects of federal government shutdowns, including potential issues for Congress.

For questions concerning the impact of a shutdown on a specific agency or program, congressional operations, or judicial operations,
• see the contact information for CRS subject matter experts who are listed in CRS Report R41723, Funding Gaps and Government Shutdowns: CRS Experts, coordinated by Clinton T. Brass;
• call CRS at 7-5700; or
• see the “Key Policy Staff” table at the end of this report.

For analysis of potential effects of a shutdown on the Department of Defense, see CRS Report R41745, Government Shutdown: Operations of the Department of Defense During a Lapse in Appropriations, by Pat Towell and Amy Belasco.

For analysis of the government’s contractual rights and how it could use these in the event of a shutdown, see CRS Report R42469, Government Procurement in Times of Fiscal Uncertainty, by Kate M. Manuel and Erika K. Lunder.

For discussion of funding gaps and a detailed chronology of two funding gaps that led to the two shutdowns of FY1996, see CRS Report RS20348, Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview, by Jessica Tollestrup.

For an annotated list of historical documents and other resources related to past government shutdowns, see CRS Report R41759, Past Government Shutdowns: Key Resources, by Jared C. Nagel and Justin Murray.

For links to agency shutdown plans (also sometimes called “contingency plans”) of varying dates, see the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) website.