SEA Calls On the Media and Congress to Stop Denigrating Furloughed Federal Employees

SEA calls on the media and Congress to stop denigrating federal employees through the use of the term “essential” when discussing the status of furloughed employees.

Common Myth

Some federal employees are "non-essential" during the government shutdown.

The Reality

All federal employees perform critical work for the government and are "essential" to daily operations and effective government.

During a lapse in appropriations (when Congress and the President fail to enact legislation to fund the government) the federal government is forced to stop a variety of mission-critical functions. Agencies must then make determinations as to which employees will remain at work and which employees will be furloughed during the government shutdown. These determinations are based off of the Anti-deficiency Act, which requires agencies to furlough federal employees unless the job duties they perform would cause immediate harm to personal safety or result in property loss if those jobs were suspended.

When no funds are appropriated, activities must be shut down. This can be permanent or, as in the current case, temporary. In temporary cases agencies typically use two ways to designate employees:


Employees under this category typically work for agencies or programs that receive funding from an alternate source or multi-year appropriations still in effect. For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is almost completely funded by fees and therefore is able to continue operations during a shutdown.


Employees under this category perform job duties that have been determined by agency heads to meet the requirements of the Anti-deficiency Act. Typical examples include employees performing functions related to life, health and safety (i.e. fire fighters and law enforcement) or protection of property and those involving National Security functions such as deployed Federal civilians in Afghanistan. Keeping a minimum level of heat on in otherwise closed buildings to keep pipes from freezing is another example.

Employees who are furloughed because they do not fit into one of those two categories perform work that is just as critical and necessary as those who remain at work; their functions have simply been deemed to not justify unfunded expenditures.

Nowhere is the term "essential" used to make these determinations. In fact, the mere term is detrimental to effective operations and employee morale.

After a week of the government shutdown, American citizens and private industry are unable to access important programs and services. Just because programs have been suspended does not meant that they do not impact individual well-being or the bottom line of many businesses. A government shutdown is harmful to the economy, to the budget, and to the services that Americans rely upon.

SEA calls on the media and Congress to stop denigrating federal employees through the use of the term "essential" when discussing the status of furloughed employees.

What is essential in this situation is that the government is funded so that federal employees can get back to work to ensure that programs are running effectively and Americans have access to the services they count on.