WASHINGTON -- The government agency that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons complex would be able to continue operations for a "limited time" following a federal shutdown, the Energy Department announced (see GSN, April 6).
The U.S. Congress has not approved a permanent spending plan for the budget year that began on October 1, 2010. The latest and apparently last of the short-term resolutions that have kept the government operating expires at midnight on Friday.
"In the event that there is a shutdown on Friday, no federal Department of Energy employees or contractors would be furloughed on Monday," department spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said in a prepared statement. "Unlike other agencies, DOE has some no-year funds that would allow us to continue operating for a limited time."
"Those funds would be available for the federal work force and contractors through funds obligated to existing contracts and financial assistance instruments," she added.
Mueller said the DOE governing directive instructs that should there be a lapse in appropriations the department must continue to perform all activities "at the minimal level possible until all of the carryover funding from prior fiscal years is exhausted."
The department includes the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the U.S. national laboratories, oversees stewardship of the nuclear stockpile and conducts nonproliferation projects around the world.
The Obama administration had proposed the agency receive $11.2 billion in the present budget cycle that began on October 1 (see GSN, Feb. 2, 2010). That would have been a 13.4-percent funding hike, a greater percentage increase than planned for any other government branch. The House of Representatives, though, passed spending legislation that would have cut more than $900 million from NNSA weapons and nonproliferation activities.
All week the White House and congressional leaders have held talks in an attempt to avert a federal government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of government employees, minus those deemed essential, would not be allowed to work once the shutdown begins.
Mueller said the department's carryover funding levels "vary by program" that would ultimately determine how long each office is able to continue operations. She said DOE officials were still working out a specific dollar figure and time line for the nuclear agency.
"For a limited amount of time, no program area in DOE will have to furlough workers, but we will have to be prudent with our spending given the budget situation on the one hand and the department's mission needs on the other," she said in the statement.
The National Nuclear Security Administration referred requests for comment on its specific situation to the Energy Department.
It did not appear that there would be any notable impact to the military side of the nation's nuclear-weapon operations.
The Defense Department said that all military personnel would continue to work in the event of a shutdown and that national defense and security activities would be maintained.
"Who is affected comes down to defining what constitutes operations and activities that are essential to safety, protection of human life and protection of our national security," Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a press statement.
The U.S. Strategic Command, the military operation that executes the nation's nuclear mission, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.