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What Happens If The Department Of Homeland Security Shuts Down

Moments ago we got another stark reminder from none other than the president himself, that the nightmare of all mega-statists, another (partial) government shutdown, may be just around the corner:

IMPORTANT: Congress is only one day away from another shutdown.

pic.twitter.com/xz5DwiZ3Ef

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama)

The reason: as soon as tomorrow, the one part of the US government which to many is a manifestation of all that is broken with the current US "big brother" state of pervasive, ubiquitous surveillance and broken immigration policies, the Department of Homeland Security which was created in response to September 11, and which houses the agencies with jurisdiction over immigration law, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may be shut down.

As ABC explains, the reason is that unlike the rest of the government, the DHS is subject to stopgap funding and "since September, Republicans and Democrats haven’t been able to agree on a full year of funding –- instead, twice since then they’ve agreed to fund DHS for a couple of months, each time hoping to reach a deal on a full year of funding. Time runs out again Friday night, but no deal is in sight."

Republicans irked by President Obama’s plan to give legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants say this time they’ll let DHS “shut down” unless the Obama administration backs down from its immigration plan. Democrats insist DHS funding shouldn’t be tied to a presidential action taken without Congressional approval. But if DHS does “shut down,” should you be worried? It depends who you are, and how long the shutdown lasts.

What happens if we go into the weekend without a DHS deal?  In the event of a shutdown, the vast majority of DHS employees would stay on the job. DHS Secretary Johnson said earlier this week that about 30,000 of DHS's approximately 240,000 employees would be furloughed. The rest would be considered exempt and most would have to work without pay.

For everyone else, a brief shutdown won't have an impact. Should the shutdown drag on, this is how DHS official describe the "state-less" hell that would be unleashed:

FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY

  • If a major snowstorm or earthquake or even terrorist attack hits a city or state, DHS won’t be able to send the state federal funds for recovery.
  • State and local authorities rely on federal grants to afford many of their first responders, but new grant requests won’t be processed – potentially forcing cities and towns across the country to cut back on police, fire and ambulance services.
  • Each month, FEMA trains thousands of state and local emergency personnel how to handle “very specialized” cases such as those involving Ebola, anthrax or sarin gas, but that training will stop.

CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION (INC. BORDER PATROL & CUSTOMS OFFICERS)

  • 500 recruits currently in training in Georgia will be sent home, wasting significant amounts of taxpayer money already invested in them and possibly losing them as recruits.
  • CBP won’t be able to replace or upgrade aging surveillance systems along the Southwest border
  • Certain criminal cases against those trying to cross the border illegally or smuggle prohibited items into the United States will slow or stop, especially after lawyers at CBP are sent home.

SECRET SERVICE

  • The Secret Service won’t be able to make certain security upgrades at the White House in the wake of several recent breaches there.
  • The 2016 presidential candidates could be put at risk because the Secret Service won’t be able to pay “for the things we need” to protect them.

IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

  • ICE will miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars intended to address “unaccompanied minors” and families still crossing the Southwest border illegally.

TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

  • “Nothing to report here,” though training and other “non-essential administrative functions would cease.”

 


 

So will there be a shutdown? Here is Stone McCarthy with an answer looking at the probability of just that contingency.

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security will lapse after Friday if Congress doesn't appropriate funds through either a continuing resolution (CR) or legislation that funds DHS for the balance of the fiscal year. Recall that when Congress in December passed legislation funding the rest of the government through September, it chose to fund DHS only through February 27. Many Republicans hoped to use DHS funding to block President Obama's executive actions on immigration, and felt their odds would improve in 2015 after taking control of the Senate and winning a larger majority in the House.

As we wrote in our December comment, simply keeping the DHS on a shorter funding leash doesn't have much impact on Obama's executive orders on immigration. The DHS houses the agencies with jurisdiction over immigration law: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). USCIS would take the lead in implementing the President's executive orders on immigration, but doesn't rely on the annual appropriations process for funding.

The House did pass legislation in mid January that both funds DHS and explicitly prohibits the relevant agencies within DHS from implementing the President's immigration policies. But the legislation has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats have blocked it on four separate occasions.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell is planning to strip the immigration provisions from the DHS funding bill; a vote on a clean funding bill could come as soon as Thursday. McConnell wants to hold a separate vote on immigration, but Democrats say they won't agree to that until DHS is funded.

Assuming the Senate passes a clean DHS funding bill, what does that House do? House Speaker Boehner would have trouble getting the more hard-line members of his party to support such a bill. There's talk that a recent ruling by a Texas judge that blocks the implementation of Obama's immigration orders might give Republicans cover to support a clean funding bill, but that's far from clear. In the end, Boehner would probably need to recruit some Democrats if he wants to pass stand-alone legislation funding DHS, assuming he's willing to bring it to a vote.

We would put the odds of a DHS shutdown at less than 50-50. After their big win in November, GOP leaders pledged that they would prove that they "could govern," that government wouldn't lurch from crisis to crisis and that there would be no government shutdowns. We think the odds of Congress funding DHS through the entire fiscal year are probably also less than 50-50, however, and that DHS is funded again for a shorter period of time through a CR. (A very short CR of a day or two is also possible over the next day as Congressional leaders sort out the logistics of voting on a clean bill.)

If a shutdown occurs, we think it would be brief. The political repercussions of shutting the DHS could be negative, especially given recent events including threats to U.S. shopping malls and today's arrest in Brooklyn of three individuals charged with aiding the Islamic State.

In the event of a shutdown, the vast majority of DHS employees would stay on the job. DHS Secretary Johnson said earlier this week that about 30,000 of DHS's approximately 240,000 employees would be furloughed. The rest would be considered exempt and most would have to work without pay.

DHS hasn't published a detailed breakdown of employees that would be furloughed or exempt like it did in advance of the 2013 government shutdown. But the estimates published then serve as a useful proxy for what would happen in the event of a shutdown after Friday. The following table summarizes employees at the agencies within DHS that accounted for the great majority of employees in advance of the 2013 shutdown, and shows the number expected to be furloughed and the number expected to be exempt at that time.

As the table shows, USCIS accounted for 5.7% of employees in 2013, but just 1.1% of furloughs. As we noted above, USCIS doesn't rely on the annual appropriations process. Presumably its exempt workers would get paid, but we're not entirely clear on that. In the event of a shutdown, the operations of USCIS would for the most part continue. However, that may be a moot point for the President's immigration policies unless a higher court reverses the stay imposed by the court in Texas.