Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Will the Last Federal Employee Please Turn Off the Lights?"

Last week, President Obama signed Public Law 112-4, a temporary spending measure which will keep the federal government fully operational until Friday, March 18. And then…what? Politicians are buzzing about an impending federal government shutdown, which could indefinitely shutter national parks and monuments, suspend the processing of passport applications, and furlough countless federal workers in “non-essential” positions. If you were too young to recall the last large-scale federal shutdown in late 1995 and early 1996, brush up on the procedure in this recently-updated Congressional Research Service report, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects (Feb. 2011) (available with Duke NetID via LexisNexis Congressional, or free at

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate rejected two spending proposals which would have extended federal operations to the end of this fiscal year, September 30, 2011. The clock is now ticking for a compromise which will avoid a repeat of the 1995-1996 shutdown. For helpful commentary and analysis on the government’s progress toward averting a shutdown, check out the CQ Electronic Library’s publication CQ Weekly. The Washington Post’s Congress section is another good place to stay current with the latest congressional activities. And if you’d like a glimpse into the future, the Obama administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget (which would begin on October 1, 2011 if approved by Congress) is posted online at the White House website.

Even if the federal shutdown happens, at least we’ll be in better shape than Belgium, which in mid-February surpassed Iraq to take the dubious record of longest time without a central government (250 days then, and counting). Former Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who resigned in April 2010, has remained on as “caretaker” prime minister after elections in June 2010 failed to produce a clear majority result for the next government; negotiations have deadlocked ever since.

For help with federal budget research, or any other congressional matter, be sure to Ask a Librarian.