Shut-Down Etiquette

If the government shuts down at midnight Monday (Sept. 30) due to Congress’ inability to agree on virtually anything, FCC staffers are not supposed to work. Period. There are excepted categories for essential personnel. That would certainly include anyone having to deal with a communications emergencies–storms, unnatural disasters and the like.

While it is apparently a federal crime for “nonessential” staffers to go to work, if past is prologue, one of the “advantages” of broadband is that staffers don’t have to be in the office to work on pressing, though “nonexcepted,” work.

In past shutdowns, top staffers managed to keep working on their often heavy workloads online but off site, according to former FCC staffers who went through shutdowns.

But the chairman and commissioners could definitely not travel to speak at any industry conferences.

Here are some of the things the FCC says won’t get done when all but a handful of staffers are furloughed:

“Consumer complaint and inquiry phone lines cannot be answered; consumer protection and local competition enforcement must cease; licensing services, including broadcast, wireless, and wireline, must cease; management of radio spectrum and the creation of new opportunities for competitive technologies and services for the American public must be suspended; and equipment authorizations, including those bringing new electronic devices to American consumers, cannot be provided.”

The commissioners and three inspectors general will get to come to work because they are not paid out of annual appropriations. Another 16 will be employed in protecting “life and limb”; up to eight will conduct interference detection and disaster response; 4 will be retained to handle IT issues; 2 will handle “cricital oversight”; and there will one employee apiece to conduct any treaty negotiations and national security functions

Outside contractors will handle some other critical functions, but more than 1,700 will not be coming to work, though some may be called in on an as-needed basis.

There is a loophole for getting some “nonessential” work done by “excepted employees” during shutdowns: If their “essential”work does not take up a whole day, and there is enough time to do other work but not enough time to go home, they can do that “nonessential” work.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.