WASHINGTON — It’s not just federal employees who are bracing for word that they need to stay home because their offices have been locked. In many cases, sitting alongside thousands of federal employees are government contractors whose ability to work could be in limbo depending on what happens on Capitol Hill.
“Contractors actually end up suffering more than a federal civilian employee would from the same shutdown effect,” said David Berteau, the president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, which represents hundreds of federal contractors who work with several different agencies.
And it’s long past the time to start planning.
“If you wait until the day of, it’s a little bit late,” Berteau said. “Among the things you have to worry about are: Who is going to have access to what facility? Many contractors have workers who go to a government facility. Will that facility be open? Will you be on the roster of people who are allowed to come in? In many cases, contractors can work because their funding isn’t governed by the current appropriation that lapses, but by prior-year funding. But the government personnel that they’re working for may be affected and may not be there.”
Berteau also said that can vary from agency to agency.
Tom Temin, an anchor at Federal News Radio, said many contractors may have to stop working unless they’re teamed up with an agency deemed critical, such as “military operations, social security [and] VA hospitals …,” he said.
“So it’s really a mixed bag depending on how critical your work is. But the agencies may not have the money necessarily to pay the contractors right away.”
Simply having the opportunity to go to work is what many contractors will be hoping for.
“If a contractor has a stop-work order or if a contract is not in effect in the time of a shutdown, unlike the government employees, contractors are not made whole for that,” Berteau said. “In every shutdown we’ve had in the last 40 years, government employees have been paid whether they went to work or not. They’ve always been reimbursed for that. Contractors are not reimbursed for work not done.”
But, as Temin noted, sometimes the company that runs the contract comes through for the employee anyway.
“That’s really up to the company,” Temin said. “High-level professional services people might continue to get paid, but if your contracting is for maintenance, or lawn service, or that sort of thing, you may not get paid. It’s up to the company whether afterwards, and the money is flowing again, you still get paid [for the time you weren’t working].”
The PSC has distributed notes about the impact the shutdown in 2013 had on contractors. It said some firms ended up paying employees “out of pocket” for the 16 days the government was shutdown. But many people still got furloughed or laid off.
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