With the start of the government’s first shutdown since 1996, every federal employee who’s not granted a specific exception is being placed on unpaid furlough starting today, for a total of about one million workers. But the picture’s a lot murkier for federal contract employees. Most of them will continue to do work for agencies during a shutdown, even if it’s not clear when their companies will be paid nor when the government employees with whom they share office space will return to work.
Trade associations who represent government contracting companies have been telling their members for the past several days that they need to stay in close contact with government contracting officers and project managers on each of the programs they’re involved in to determine whether work will go on during a shutdown, since the impact will vary dramatically case-by-case.
In the case of contract employees, the question is not so much about whether they’re essential to the protection of life and property — the biggest criteria used for most federal employees in furlough decisions — but rather, how and when the money that funds their contracts was obligated by the government. Since the shutdown is hitting at the beginning of a new fiscal year, it’s reasonable to expect that many, if not most, contract employees will actually continue working during a shutdown, depending on how long it lasts.
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