Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.
Until 1980, the failure by Congress to enact funding legislation for U.S. government agencies did not lead to a shutdown. In that year, however, an interpretation of the 1884 Antideficiency Act by Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti determined that the lack of a funding legislation requires that U.S. government agencies curtail their activities and services, cease non-essential operations, and furlough non-essential workers. Only “essential employees,” those working in departments covering the safety of human life or protection of property can continue working.
As a result, over the past 40 years, U.S. government agencies have repeatedly faced potential or actual budget shortfalls as a result of the failure of Congress to pass appropriations bills to fund continuing governmental operations. Concomitant with that, federal employees have faced multiple potential or actual furloughs when the government has shut down due to lack of funds. There have been 10 actual shutdowns, the shortest being a matter of hours and the longest being 35 days.
As the following 1912 memo by the Chief Clerk of the Department of State indicates, the lack of appropriations is not a new phenomenon, although employees of that era did not face shutdown. What is even more enlightening is that this notice refers to the text of an 1876 memo by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish to explain the situation.
Source: Chief Clerk to Chiefs of Bureaus and Divisions, June 28, 1912, file 111.29/45, 1910-29 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
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