Sorry, No Work Today

The White House has signaled that it is not interested in a third continuing resolution to forestall a government shut-down. “I have been very clear that the last time we had an extension, it was to give the parties time to go ahead and get something done,” the President said Tuesday after a meeting with Republican and Democratic legislators. “We are now at the point where there is no excuse to extend this further.”

If there is no agreement on a CR or long-term funding bill, there will be a partial government shutdown after Friday, April 8.

So in that case, what happens at the FCC? There will be essential personell, ones that deal with emergencies, for example, who will be at work, but everybody else is supposed to stay home. Apparently that was honored in the breach as well as the observance the last time around.

Former FCC chief of staff (under Reed Hundt) Blair Levin was around for the shut-down at the end of 1995 and the begining of 1996 and while he said his memory of it is not great, what he does remember is afterwards finding the mailroom stuffed with correspondence. “It was like one of those cartoon things where you open the door and it is so full you can’t even get in the room the backlog was so great.”

He says he was only back a day or two when a snowstorm shut the commission down again.

Current FCC staffers are saying the way they understand it, it will be a federal crime for folks not involved with emergency and safety issues to even check their Blackberries during the shutdown or to “volunteer” their time by working.

Commissioner Michael Copps is traveling to Boston for a weekend media conference. If the government shuts down, Copps can stay as essential personnell–all the commissioners are–but any staff on the trip would have to come back.

And there will be lists of essential personnel at FCC headquarters to prevent others from coming to work on Monday.

Levin says he does not remember it that way. “I don’t recall a day going by in which Reed said: ‘well, I guess we can’t go to work today.”

He says he isn’t sure, but thinks there were a lot of days he was there. “I hope the statue of limitations has passed if it actually was a federal crime.”

“I remember there were essential employees and nonessential employees, but I remember that all of us within Reed’s orbit were working fairly hard,” he says. For one thing, the FCC was “deep into the final innings of the negotiation of the most significant legislation” in years, the Communications Act rewrite.

Congress has its own guidelines for shut-downs, which affect staffers but not the legislators, who may continue their legislative activities and get paid for it.

Offices not determined to be essential to protecting life, property or “constitutional responsibilities” will be closed, which includes the House Gift Shop and Flag Office. Offices that are essential will expect to be open and staffed by essential personell who may or may not be paid after the shutdown is over.

And so it goes.

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.