Mere hours before Congress failed to reach a budget deal and the government shutdown, officials who protect the nation’s health said they had received no official guidance on what to do in the event of a government shutdown.
Staffers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Vox (on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their jobs) that they’d heard nothing about what specific protocols to follow if the government had to close.
Just before 3pm yesterday, the acting secretary of Health and Human Services sent out an email, saying the agency was “working to update our contingency plans.”
By 6pm last night, notifications went out telling staff if they were furloughed or not. Furloughed employees were asked at that late hour to “begin identifying the required actions you’ll need to complete to effect an orderly should a shutdown occur.”
One CDC staffer, who worked at the agency during the last government shutdown in 2013, expressed “alarm as a taxpayer that there’s been no official guidance, or a set of protocols in place.”
Several employees said they felt the 2013 transition to a shutdown went much more smoothly. Back then, for example, emails with planning information, including identifying employees who were furloughed, started to come in on September 26, five days before the government shut down on October 1.
“The fact we’re getting no guidance is symptomatic of the dysfunctionality of this entire [administration],” the staffer said. “Having no guidance 12 hours out on the deadline day — it’s not how you run any kind of an organization.”
“I consider this issue nonpartisan — the issue of proper and timely procedures,” the employee added. “This should be a bureaucratic function.”
Another staffer told Vox, “The lack of official guidance on what to specifically do is ridiculous. We’ve had to ask our managers about what happened last time.”
With so little specific guidance going into the shutdown, and the fact that furloughed employees aren’t able to check their work email as of midnight last night, several CDC staffers expressed confusion and worry about what to do if this impasse drags on.
CDC employees do critical work of protecting public health
Employees of the government’s health agencies do the critical work of preventing and tracking disease outbreaks, running clinical trials, performing research, and overseeing food inspections, as I wrote with Vox’s Brian Resnick.
With this budget impasse, funding stops flowing to the agencies, which means investigators at NIH can no longer enroll new patients in clinical trials, lab technicians at CDC will be hampered in their efforts to support states with monitoring flu outbreaks, and food inspectors at FDA will have to stop doing the work of overseeing the safety of the food supply.
According to the government’s 2018 contingency plan for a government shutdown, 50 percent of staff across Health and Human Services agencies will be furloughed. The retention rates at specific agencies vary, but the plan suggests only 37 percent of the CDC’s 13,600 employees will be retained. At the two other key health agencies in the department, the NIH and FDA, the numbers are only 23 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
Right now, the CDC employees who talked to Vox weren’t sure why there was so little official word, and wondered whether it was another example of Trump-era governance, or whether staff and budget cuts across the agencies were hampering the leadership’s ability to plan.
“When I see the lack of organization and procedural norms, it makes me question what’s going on,” one said, “why isn’t this happening? Is this a directive? Did they not know?”
How’s prep for a government shutdown going at CDC, NIH, FDA? Reach Julia at [email protected], on KeyBase at jbelluz, or through PGP: F65A 5539 A081 B01E 1E8D 498D 6489 E570 AEAB E972