Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The shutdown begins, Antideficiency Act kicks in

Could be very expensive to restart the government

The government shutdown will be governed by a 19th century law that is, thankfully, little known and little used.

The Antideficiency Act is a collection of statutory and administrative provisions that forbid federal officials from entering into financial obligations for which they do not have funding, like paying the salaries of their employees or buying the things they need to run the government, according to The Atlantic.

It's also the law that wisely permits certain "essential" government functions -- like the military and the courts, for example -- to keep operating even in the absence of authorized legislative funding. The courts have about 10 days of available funding before devastating cuts are imposed.

The Act prohibits federal employees from
    • making or authorizing an expenditure from, or creating or authorizing an obligation under, any appropriation or fund in excess of the amount available in the appropriation or fund unless authorized by law. 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(A).
    • involving the government in any obligation to pay money before funds have been appropriated for that purpose, unless otherwise allowed by law. 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(B).
    • accepting voluntary services for the United States, or employing personal services not authorized by law, except in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. 31 U.S.C. § 1342.
    • making obligations or expenditures in excess of an apportionment or reapportionment, or in excess of the amount permitted by agency regulations. 31 U.S.C. § 1517(a).
Federal employees who violate the Antideficiency Act are subject to two types of sanctions: administrative and penal. Employees may be subject to appropriate administrative discipline including, when circumstances warrant, suspension from duty without pay or removal from office. In addition, employees may also be subject to fines, imprisonment, or both.

"The irony is that it always costs money to restart them and they typically get their back pay for the days they don't work, the government employees, and they have to catch up on the work that's not done while they are on these involuntary furloughs," Harvard Law Professor Howell E. Jackson, a budget and regulatory expert told The Atlantic. "So it's a very expensive way to play politics over the fiscal crisis."

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