Energy Department Sidesteps Shutdown For Now - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership

Energy Department Sidesteps Shutdown For Now

Energy Department employees are among feds who started working without pay on Tuesday. But if shutdown lingers, furloughs might be in store.

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A message in large type at the top of the Energy Department's website Tuesday declared: "Notice: Due to the current lapse of federal funding, the Department of Energy's website is accessible, but may not be updated until Congress authorizes funds for Fiscal Year 2014."

The Energy Department's 13,800 employees, for now, are still reporting to work despite the government-wide shutdown. While the Energy Department is often associated with U.S. energy policy and some of the nation's fastest supercomputers, it is also responsible for ensuring the integrity and safety of the nation's nuclear weapons.

What happens to Energy Department and other federal employees if Congress is unable to quickly resolve the budget impasse -- and whether they will be reimbursed for the time they worked during the government's shutdown -- remains to be seen.

[ How is government IT affected by the gridlocked Congress? Read Dysfunctional Congress Hurts Government IT. ]

Contacted at DOE headquarters in Washington, a spokesman declined to comment but referred InformationWeek to the department's Lapse of Appropriations Plan. "That explains everything about the shutdown," the spokesman said.

According to the plan, most of the DOE's appropriations are multi-year or no-year, so "for the immediate future, [we expect] DOE employees to continue to report for work as scheduled."

However, the plan also states that "a prolonged lapse in appropriations may require subsequent employee furloughs." In that event, according to the plan, only about 1,100 "excepted personnel" would be retained if DOE has to implement furloughs.

Also under the plan, the department will "continue performance of contracts and financial assistance instruments in accordance with their terms, including any provisions about limitations of funding."

However, the DOE "may need to review" the status of its contracts, depending upon the length of the lapse of the appropriations, according to the plan. Only in cases where the suspension of a contract would "imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property" would contractors be permitted to continue their work.

DOE employees and contractors continue to have concerns about the security of their information. The Energy Department suffered a data breach in July that lead to the theft of personally identifying information belonging to approximately 53,000 past and current federal employees, including dependents and contractors.

A prolonged federal shutdown could affect employees at the DOE's 17 national laboratories, which are funded by the department under contracts with the private-sector organizations, non-profits or academic institutions that operate and manage the labs. For now, though, employees at the labs are at work.

"Only thing we're authorized to say is that Fermilab employees are working today," said a spokeswoman at DOE's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. However, the spokeswoman added, "the lab can only run assuming that we have funds from DOE to continue."

One lab employee, who asked not to be identified, told InformationWeek: "We have enough money for a certain amount of time. So at the moment nobody is furloughed. We're just conserving resources."

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