Government shutdown? What happens to USDA, FDA, EPA?


If the Senate can’t get enough votes for a stopgap spending bill, that passed in the House last night and would keep the government funded through Feb. 16, it looks like we will be headed toward another federal government shutdown.

A government shutdown doesn’t mean everything comes to a halt though. Only agencies that are deemed nonessential are closed. So what does that mean for some of our ag-related agencies?  Let’s take a trip back in time and see what happened during the last government shutdown in 2013.

  • FDA food inspectors were not working, but USDA food inspectors still logged in. That seems to be the same plan this year. The reason being that the FDA doesn’t conduct food-safety inspections nearly as frequently as the USDA does.
  • The official grain inspection and weighing services provided by USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) continued uninterrupted and will most likely stay open this time since these staff positions are financed by industry-paid user fees.
  • USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continued to issue phytosanitary certificates for export shipments because they are financed by user fees. APHIS activities associated with foreign plant and animal disease prevention also stayed the course, but activities funded by congressional appropriations were discontinued, including assistance for control of most domestic plant and animal pests and diseases, as well as action on permits or authorizations of biotech-enhanced traits.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, aka SNAP, continued, as did WIC. That should happen again this year, however it is expected several smaller feeding programs will not have enough money to operate. School breakfasts and lunches funded by the federal government would not be affected.
  • The USDA shut down their web site. Agricultural statistical reports ceased publication
  • Most federal agencies will likely be closed again, such as the Farm Service Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency, although some of their essential functions will continue to operate. During the 2013 shutdown, FSA retained only 70 employees – 0.59 percent of its work force; EPA staff was only on hand in the event of an emergency.
  • OSHA stopped all operations except for those that related to “emergencies involving the safety of human life or protection of property.”
  • The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) kept 61 staff members in the 2013 shutdown to continue advising the president on U.S. trade policy.

In total, the October 2013 government shutdown lasted more than two weeks and more than 800,000 federal employees were furloughed.

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