By Glenn Fleishman
December 22, 2018

With the shutdown in effect, the borders remain guarded and ships, planes, and trains—as well as merchandise—will still be allowed to enter and leave the U.S. under a contingency plan set by the Department of Homeland Security. Nearly 88% of its workers will be required to report to work, but will not receive a paycheck for the duration of the funding lapse.

About 53,000 TSA employees, 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and officers, and 42,000 Coast Guard members and staff must work without pay, according to research from the Senate Appropriation Committee’s vice chair, Democrat Patrick Leahy. Essential employees also include anyone involved in counter-terrorism efforts, intelligence gathering, or providing telecommunications support for DHS workers.

The 88% of all DHS employees who must remain on the job are part of about 420,000 federal workers also forced to perform their duties at agencies for whom no budget or stopgap measure has been approved. Some may receive payment if funds remain in certain accounts or their positions or work are funded by agencies unaffected by the partial shutdown. The other 12% of DHS workers, and 380,000 employees across government, will be furloughed—and also not paid for the duration.

DHS and other federal workers required to report to their jobs will receive back pay when a funding measure finally gets approved. Furloughed workers will almost certainly also receive pay for the period they were not working, as has happened routinely following previous shutdowns, such as a brief one in January 2018.

Federal agencies generally cannot spend money ahead of appropriations, requiring this suspension of non-essential operations and all pay. But workers who fit certain exemptions have to report to work during government shutdowns. The DHS noted in a contingency plan prepared for the shutdown, “An employee who refuses to report for work after being ordered to do so will be considered to be in an absence without leave status and may be subject to administrative or disciplinary action for not reporting for work.”

In that plan, updated Dec. 17, DHS spelled out the many exemptions that apply to its employees. That includes members of the active military, those engaged in foreign relations essential to national security, and most significantly, workers who are “necessary for the safety of human life or protection of property.” That sweeps in most DHS employees outside of those involved in planning, research, auditing, training, and areas related to regulatory and public policy work.

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