Funding Gaps and Shutdowns in the Federal Government

Historical Highlight

March 18, 1879

The 1879 Rider Wars

As required by the Constitution, all three branches of the federal government are funded through the appropriations process in the United States Congress. All federal spending bills originate in the House of Representatives, where they fall under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Appropriations. In 1865, the House moved the appropriations function away from the Ways and Means Committee, creating the Appropriations Committee to oversee the spending requirements of the Union’s war effort during the waning days of the Civil War. Since then, the obligations and responsibilities of the federal government have only grown.

Because the appropriations process can be such a complicated task, the Appropriations Committee divides its work among 12 subcommittees, each of which is responsible for producing a bill that funds particular departments and areas of the government. Like any other bill, spending measures must pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the President to become law. Congress conducts the appropriations process annually, for each fiscal year beginning every October 1. If regular appropriations bills are not signed into law before the start of the new fiscal year, Congress can pass a continuing resolution, or CR, which provides temporary funding in the interim period before regular appropriations bills are passed. If a new fiscal year begins or a continuing resolution expires without Congress appropriating new funds, parts of the federal government can experience a lapse in funding.

The Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives in Session/tiles/non-collection/i/i_shutdowns_appropriations_2006_087_001.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
This 1888 print illustrates the Appropriations Committee in session with Chairman Samuel Randall at the head of the table, on the left.
Prior to the 1980s, funding gaps did not typically have major effects on government operations. Government agencies would often continue to operate during a lapse in appropriations, with the expectation that funding would be provided in the future.1 In 1980 and 1981, however, United States Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti wrote a series of legal opinions that established the basis for government shutdowns. Civiletti called for a stricter interpretation of the Antideficiency Act, a longstanding law that prohibits government agencies from authorizing expenditures in excess of the amount Congress provided them by law. Ultimately, the Attorney General believed government agencies had no legal means to operate during a funding gap.2 Beginning with the appropriations process for fiscal year 1982, many subsequent funding gaps have resulted in a shutdown of affected agencies, in which day-to-day operations halt and employees are furloughed without pay. Eventually, federal officials carved out exemptions for government employees deemed “essential,” like military and law enforcement personnel involved in the protection of life and property.

Funding Gaps Since 1977

The table below lists funding gaps that have lasted for at least one full day.3 The "Shutdown Procedures Followed" column is marked "yes" if agencies were closed and their employees furloughed as a result of the funding gap. This includes both full and partial shutdowns. In some instances, funding gaps after 1980 had limited effects on government operations because the gaps were either too short or occurred over a weekend, meaning affected agencies did not begin shutdown procedures before Congress restored funding.4

Fiscal
Year
Date
Funding
Ended
Duration of
Funding Gap
(in Days)
Date
Funding
Restored
Shutdown
Procedures
Followed
Legislation
Restoring
Funding
1977September 30, 197610October 11, 1976NoH.J. Res. 1105
Pub. L. 94-473
90 Stat. 2065
1978September 30, 197712October 13, 1977NoH.J. Res. 626
Pub. L. 95-130
91 Stat. 1153
1978October 31, 19778November 9, 1977NoH.J. Res. 643
Pub. L. 95-165
91 Stat. 1323
1978November 30, 19778December 9, 1977NoH.J. Res 662
Pub. L. 95-205
91 Stat. 1460
1979September 30, 197817October 18, 1978NoH.R. 12929
Pub. L. 95-480
92 Stat. 1567

H.R. 12931
Pub. L. 95-481
92 Stat. 1591

H.J. Res. 1139
Pub. L. 95-482
92 Stat. 1603
1980September 30, 197911October 12, 1979NoH.J. Res. 412
Pub. L. 96-86
93 Stat. 656
1982November 20, 19812November 23, 1981Yes5H.J. Res. 368
Pub. L. 97-85
95 Stat. 1098
1983September 30, 19821October 2, 1982Yes6H.J. Res. 599
Pub. L. 97-276
96 Stat. 1186
1983December 17, 19823December 21, 1982No7H.J. Res. 631
Pub. L. 97-377
96 Stat. 1830
1984November 10, 19833November 14, 1983No8H.J. Res 413
Pub. L. 98-151
97 Stat. 964
1985September 30, 19842October 3, 1984No9H.J. Res. 653
Pub. L. 98-441
98 Stat. 1699
1985October 3, 19841October 5, 1984Yes10H.J. Res. 656
Pub. L. 98-453
98 Stat. 1731
1987October 16, 19861October 18, 1986Yes11H.J. Res. 73812

Pub. L. 99-500
100 Stat. 1783

Pub. L. 99-591
100 Stat. 3341
1988December 18, 19871December 20, 1987No13H.J. Res. 431
Pub. L. 100-197
101 Stat. 1314
1991October 5, 19903October 9, 1990Yes14H.J. Res. 666
Pub. L. 101-412
104 Stat. 894
1996November 13, 19955November 19, 1995Yes15H.R. 2020
Pub. L. 104-52
109 Stat. 468

H.R. 2492
Pub. L. 104-53
109 Stat. 514

H.J. Res. 123
Pub. L. 104-54
109 Stat. 540
1996December 15, 199521January 6, 1996Yes16H.J. Res. 134
Pub. L. 104-94
110 Stat. 25
2014September 30, 201316October 17, 2013YesH.R. 2775
Pub. L. 113-46
127 Stat. 558
2018January 19, 20182January 22, 2018Yes17H.R. 195
Pub. L. 115-120
132 Stat. 28
2019December 21, 201834January 25, 2019YesH.J. Res. 28
Pub. L. 116-5
133 Stat. 10

Footnotes

1James V. Saturno, “Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview,” Report RS20348, 4 February 2019, Congressional Research Service: 4, https://www.crs.gov/Reports/RS20348.

2Saturno, “Federal Funding Gaps”: 1; 16 Stat. 251 (1870).

3Saturno, “Federal Funding Gaps”: 3.

4Saturno, “Federal Funding Gaps”: 2.

5“Shutdown Questions, Answers,” 24 November 1981, Washington Post: A5.

6Mike Causey, “The Federal Diary: Cost of Day's Chaos Around $88 Million,” 3 October 1982, Washington Post: C2; “Stopgap Funding Measure Adopted,” 1 October 1982, Atlanta Constitution: 3A. While furloughs were not anticipated on October 1 in this case, some offices were told to perform only essential operations and to follow shutdown procedures. It was unclear whether employees were still required to report to work.

7Karlyn Barker, “White House Tells Civil Servants to Report to Work,” 21 December 1982, Washington Post: A7.

8Paul Houston, “Seven Agencies Run Out of Money as Stopgap Funding Bill Is Delayed,” 11 November 1983, Los Angeles Times: B5; “Funding Bill is Signed by Reagan,” 15 November 1983, Philadelphia Inquirer: A5.

9On October 1, Congress passed a three-day stopgap spending bill, but the President didn’t sign it until October 3. In this instance, the anticipated funding prevented a shutdown during the three-day period. See Paul Houston, “Congress Passes Stopgap Spending Bill,” 2 October 1984, Los Angeles Times: 4, and Helen Dewar, “Federal Shutdown Readied as Senate Works on Funding,” 4 October 1984, Washington Post: A1; Public Law 98-441, 98 Stat. 1699.

10U.S. Goes 'Broke,' Furloughs 500,000,” 4 October 1984, Philadelphia Daily News: 4.

11Sharon LaFraniere and Peter Perl, “Federal Workers Create Noon Stampede: Most of 350,000 Employes Here Sent Home in Spending Bill Crisis,” 18 October 1986, Washington Post: A1.

12The President first signed H. J. Res. 738 into law on October 18, 1986, where it became Public Law 99-500. It was later discovered that a clerical error during the enrollment process caused several lines from the bill to be omitted. The President signed a corrected version of H. J. Res. 738 on October 30, which became Public Law 99-591.

13Karen Tumulty, “Congress Near Money Bill Accord: Emergency 1-Day Funding Averts Federal Shutdown,” 21 December 1987, Los Angeles Times: SDA1; Tom Kenworthy and Anne Swardson, “Congress Okays Stopgap Money,” 21 December 1987, St. Petersburg Times: 1A; Karen Tumulty, “Deal Sought Over Funds for Contras, Federal Shutdown Looms as Congress Awaits Money Bill,” 20 December 1987, Los Angeles Times: 1.

14National parks and federal museums were closed but most employees were not affected; funding was restored before the end of the weekend. Elaine Povich, “Bush, Congress Ok Plan to Avert Federal Shutdown,” 9 October 1990, Chicago Tribune: D1.

15Robert Manor et al., “Federal Workers get Sent Home, Shutdown Means Job Limbo for Thousands Here,” 15 November 1995, St. Louis Dispatch: 1.A.

16Eric Pianin and John F. Harris, “Clinton Signs Measures to Halt Shutdown,” 6 January 1996, Washington Post: A1.

17Robert Costa et al., “House Votes to end Government Shutdown, Sending Legislation to Trump,” 22 January 2018, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/trump-slams-democrats-as-third-day-of-government-shutdown-begins/2018/01/22/3a3eecf0-ff25-11e7-9d31-d72cf78dbeee_story.html.