Sorry, you're not 'essential': Who will work during a government shutdown?

Chris Moody
Scientist to Congress: Shutdown a 'Deep Hardship'
The United States Capitol building.

Barring congressional action, the federal government will “shut down,” on Oct. 1, but the question of whether Capitol Hill workers will get time off isn't as easy to answer as you might think. 

In preparation for the possible shutdown, the Committee on House Administration on Wednesday unveiled a guide to help House members and office managers determine who will stay and who will go. In the House, only employees considered “non-essential” will be required to stay home, a designation that—let’s be honest—is pretty harsh.

Security personnel, such as Capitol Hill police and the Secret Service, will be expected to show up for work under a shutdown scenario. But for many employees in the House who don't carry a gun to work, the designation can be vague.

According to the committee memo, House offices can choose to keep workers deemed “essential to upholding its constitutional responsibilities."

“Activities that directly support Members’ performance of their constitutional responsibilities would encompass, but are not limited to, such activities as vote tallying, bill and resolution drafting, parliamentary and legal advice and research, technical and technological support, and the like,” the memo reads.

All other workers, the memo says, should expect to be furloughed.

That would include workers in the House gift shop, the Botanic Garden, the Flag Office and--as fate would have it--congressional tour guides who work in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Longtime readers will recall that the issue of cancelled tours has been a bit of a soft spot in Washington since the White House Visitors Office cancelled guided tours of the president’s residence and cited sequestration. Congressional Republicans were furious and accused the Obama Administration of playing politics by not prioritizing funding. Starting next week, if a shutdown occurs, only those with some pull with with a member of Congress' office will be able to secure a capitol tour.

The rest of you can go take a hike on the National Mall or something.