How Might a Government Shutdown Affect the University?

Kent Springfield, director of federal government relations, explains the ways in which a shutdown could affect students, faculty and D.C. residents.

September 29, 2013

By Lauren Ingeno

Unless lawmakers reach a spending deal by Tuesday, the federal government will shut down for the first time since the shutdown of 1995 and 1996. Kent Springfield, director of federal government relations, spoke with George Washington Today about what the GW community can expect in the event of another government shutdown.

Q: How likely is a government shutdown? How long would it last?

A: It’s looking increasingly likely. We narrowly averted a shutdown in 2011. In these high-stakes negotiations, it’s hard for either side to come to the table and cut a deal until the last possible moment. So, that may be a question that doesn’t get answered until late Monday night. It’s certainly not looking good right now. The longest one in the ’90s lasted more than 20 days. In the ’70s and ’80s, shutdowns were actually pretty common during times of divided government, though most lasted only a couple days or included only part of the government.

Q: How and why will residents of the District of Columbia be particularly affected?

A: The Constitution grants Congress control over the District of Columbia — its budget and laws are subject to congressional approval. So, even though our tax dollars are raised locally, D.C. cannot spend without budget authority — similar to federal agencies.  Non-essential employees of the District of Columbia would typically be sent home during a shutdown, but as of now the mayor has declared all employees of the D.C. government essential and announced plans to use reserve funds to keep the D.C. government operating if needed. In previous government shutdowns, emergency services – police, fire and ambulance — all operated as normal. But in the ’90s, some services, like trash collection, parking enforcement and the DMV were not considered essential.

Q: Will the daily lives of students and GW employees be affected?

A: We want people to understand that there aren’t necessarily big, impending disruptions coming. Your financial aid is not going to disappear. During a shutdown, national parks will be closed. Some government payments, like GI Bill benefits, may be stalled in a prolonged shutdown. And if you are a student who has a federal work study job at a federal agency, you will not be able to go into work.

Q: Which GW events, activities or facilities could be canceled or inaccessible?

A: Unless an event is sponsored by the federal government, we would expect it to go forward as normal. The men's and women's rowing teams use the Thompson’s Boat Center, which is operated by the National Parks Service. So that would not be accessible during a shutdown, and the teams would be unable to practice.

Q: What would happen to faculty members’ research grants and contracts?

A: Most grants will probably be unaffected by a shutdown. However, there are specific cases in which  faculty members may need to halt their research. Typically, this will be because they are conducting that work at a federal research facility or because they need guidance from the agency to proceed in their work. We will work with faculty members in specific instances in which work may need to be suspended on grants and contracts. Faculty who receive notice from a program officer related to a government shutdown should contact the Office of the Vice President for Research immediately. Additionally, the system will be operational, but may only accept and store applications. Applications may not be processed until such time as the funding and normal business operations are restored. Submission due dates should be adhered to.