Federal Government Shutdown: Causes, Processes and Effects
Under the U.S. Antideficiency Act, federal agencies and programs must stop operating if and when their funding is not further appropriated by Congress. Such a government shutdown last took place for a 21-day period, from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996; a related one also took place Nov. 13-19, 1995. These events prompted the furloughing of several hundred thousand workers and had wide implications for the U.S. economy.
A 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service, “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes and Effects” (PDF), presents the mechanics of such a work stoppage and enumerates the broad effects of the shutdowns in 1995-1996.
Important points in the report relating to the shutdowns in 1995-1996 include:
- Health and welfare services for military veterans were curtailed; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped disease surveillance; new clinical research patients were not accepted at the National Institutes of Health; and toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites was halted.
- The closure of 368 Nation Park sites resulted in the loss of some 7 million visitors.
- Recruitment and testing of federal law enforcement officials was reportedly cancelled, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents.
- 200,000 applications for passports and 20,000 to 30,000 applications for visas by foreigners went unprocessed; U.S. tourism and airline industries incurred millions of dollars in losses.
- More than 20% of federal contracts, representing $3.7 billion in spending, were affected adversely.
The Congressional Research Service Report notes that there are a variety of activities that are excepted from a shutdown, including those relating to national security, medical care, duties “essential to ensure public health and safety,” law enforcement, and air traffic control and transportation safety functions.
Tags: Congress, economy, employment
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Congressional Research Service study "Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes and Effects."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related Washington Post article "Congressional Budget Talks to Stave Off Shutdown Continue."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.