When federal agencies and programs lack funding after the expiration of full-year or interim appropriations, the agencies and programs experience a funding gap. If funding does not resume in time to continue government operations, then, under the Antideficiency Act, an agency must cease operations, except in certain situations when law authorizes continued activity. Funding gaps are distinct from shutdowns, and the criteria that flow from the Antideficiency Act for determining which activities are affected by a shutdown are complex.
Failure of the President and Congress to reach agreement on full-year or interim funding measures occasionally has caused shutdowns of affected federal government activities. The longest such shutdown lasted 21 full days during FY1996, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996. More recently, a relatively long funding gap commenced on October 1, 2013, the first day of FY2014, after funding for the previous fiscal year expired. Because funding did not resume on October 1, affected agencies began to cease operations and furlough personnel that day. A 16-full-day shutdown ensued, the first to occur in over 17 years. Subsequently, two comparatively brief shutdowns occurred during FY2018, in January and February 2018, respectively.
Government shutdowns have necessitated furloughs of several hundred thousand federal employees, required cessation or reduction of many government activities, and affected numerous sectors of the economy. This report discusses causes of shutdowns, including the legal framework under which they may occur; processes related to how agencies may plan for the contingency of a shutdown; effects of shutdowns, focusing especially on federal personnel and government operations; and issues related to shutdowns that may be of interest to Congress.