US Government Shutdown Q&A: Global Impact


Letter from President Obama to US Government employees affected by the shutdown in 2013
(more on Wikipedia: Government shutdown)

The U.S. government has shut down, and the world is still turning. Some government functions linking the United States to the rest of world will be affected, however, as will many domestic services. Here's a primer to better understand the crisis and its potential impacts.





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US Government Shutdown Q&A: Global Impact

Kate Woodsome

Last updated on: October 01, 2013 12:01 AM

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government has shut down, and the world is still turning. Some government functions linking the United States to the rest of world will be affected, however, as will many domestic services. Here's a primer to better understand the crisis and its potential impacts.

1. How will a shutdown affect U.S.-global relations?

Consular Operations: U.S. consular operations overseas will remain operational as long as there are sufficient funds to support them, according to the State Department. That means the State Department will keep processing foreign applications for U.S. visas and passports, and providing services to U.S. citizens overseas as long as it can.

Consular Staff: The State Department will apply a furlough to Locally Employed Staff, including foreign nationals, depending on local labor laws in each country. In general, Locally Employed Staff will be required to a) report to work as directed by their supervisor, b) be given a paid absence, or c) be placed on ordinary furlough status.

Diplomacy: State Department travel will be limited to that necessary to maintain foreign relations essential to national security, or dealing with emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. So, for example, travel will be allowed for the negotiation of major treaties and for providing essential services to refugees, but not to give an inspirational speech at a foreign university.

Green Cards: Most employees working for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will stay on the job, which means applications for U.S. green cards, or legal permanent residency, should continue as usual. USCIS is funded primarily from fees people pay for immigration services and benefits, which means its employees are not dependent on Congressionally-approved appropriations bills.

Homeland Security: The Department of Homeland Security’s Procedures Relating to a Federal Funding Hiatus (http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/dhs-lapse-contingency-plan-09-27-2013_0.pdf) designate about 86 percent of its more than 200,000 employees as “essential” for the “safety of human life or protection of property.”

Work will continue as usual for most Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection employees, airport screening officers, U.S. Secret Service agents, and other people in passenger processing and cargo inspection at ports of entry and the detention of drug traffickers or undocumented immigrants. The E-Verify system is not considered essential, however, so businesses will not be able to electronically check the immigration status of job applicants.

Military Operations: The military’s 1.4 million active-duty personnel will stay on duty, although they will be paid later. About 400,000 people, half of the Defense Department's civilian employees, will be sent home without pay.

Tourism: Foreign tourists taking a U.S. vacation might be disappointed if they were planning on trekking through the Grand Canyon in Arizona or the National Zoo in Washington. The rangers who run these sites are considered “non-essential” federal employees, so the national parks will be closed.

2. What economic impacts could there be on the U.S. and the world?

If the shutdown lasts a few days, any financial hardship would be felt mostly by furloughed workers.

If the shutdown lasts a few weeks, tourism revenues could slip and consumers and businesses might think twice before spending.

If the shutdown is followed by a default on the federal debt, which could happen in a month if Congress does not act, foreign investors would really start to worry about the strength of the U.S. economy. They could lose confidence in the U.S. ability to pay back loans, triggering higher interest rates from foreign lenders. Even worse, foreign investors may not feel confident buying U.S. bonds.

3. Why has the U.S. government shut down?

The government is like a car. Its fuel is money. If the car isn’t refueled, it stops running. The U.S. Congress is responsible for refueling that car, and it does that by passing spending bills. The new budget year begins on Tuesday, and Congress is nowhere close to agreeing on spending laws. As a result, the government, without funding, will slow to minimal speed.

4. Why can’t lawmakers agree on a spending bill?

The Republican and Democratic Parties disagree on a plan to provide health care insurance to millions of uninsured Americans. Republican members of the House of Representatives don't like the plan, known as Obamacare, and are refusing to sign an appropriations bill that includes funding for it. Democratic members of the Senate are refusing to sign a spending plan that does not fund Obamacare.

5. Has this happened before?

Yes, the government has shut down 17 times since 1977. The last shutdown was the longest, lasting 21 days from December 16, 1995, to January 5, 1996.

6. How will the shutdown proceed this time?

Federal agencies are alerting their staff as to who is “essential” and who is “non-essential.” Staff deemed essential will continue working. Everyone else will be furloughed, going home without pay. Essential employees will be paid, but only after an appropriations bill is passed.

7. How many U.S. government workers could be furloughed?

Nearly 2.2 million people work for the federal government, excluding uniformed members of the military and U.S. Postal Service career employees, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Of the 2.2 million, approximately 800,000 are considered "non-essential" and could be sent home without pay, according to The Washington Post.

8. Can a furloughed worker work?

They could, but there would be consequences. Technically, it’s illegal for a government worker to perform any of their duties during a shutdown. That even includes checking work email.

Clarification: The updated version of this article uses the most recently available OPM federal workforce numbers, set at approximately 2.2 million.

Language Notes

primer (n) 入門書,初級課本

consular (a) 領事館的

furlough (v) 停職休假XXXXX* 注意發音:

treaty (n) 條約,協定

inspirational (a) 鼓舞人心的,激勵的

美國海外領事館業務 (consular operations) 在有足夠資金 (sufficient funds) 支援的情況下,仍會維持運作。美國務院 (State Department) 會依每國的勞工法規 (labor laws) 來執行其外籍員工 (foreign nationals) 停職休假 (furlough) 的方法。大致來說,美外館的當地聘用的員工 (Locally Employed Staff) 可能會 a) 依照主管 (supervisor) 指示到職、上班 (report to work),b) 給與有薪假 (a paid absence),c) 依規定為停職休假狀態 (status)。

在外交事務上,國務院的海外旅行將限縮於對國家安全 (national security) 有必要之外交關係 (foreign relations) 維護,或是有關保全生命與財產的緊急事故。舉例來說,海外旅行將限於重大條約 (treaty) 的協商事宜,或協助難民 (refugee) 的必要事務,但到海外大學去發表勵志性 (inspirational) 演說則不在此例。

residency (n) 居住

appropriation (n) 撥款

bill (n) 議案,法案

bill 的字義很多,除了本新聞中的「法案」以外,還有「帳單」跟「紙鈔」的意思。bill 另一個字義差比較遠的是「鳥嘴」。這是英文中的同型異義 (homograph)。本屬不同字源的字進入英語後,卻依附在同一個字型上,所以語意相差甚大。

hiatus (n) 中斷,停頓XXXXX* 注意發音:

designate (v) 標明,指示

screen (v) 檢察

trafficker (n) 作非法買賣者

大多的美國公民與移民事務局的員工會持續工作 (stay on the job),因此美國綠卡或是永久居留 (permanent residency) 的申請都會繼續。美國移民局的運轉資金主要是從移民相關服務所收取的費用而來,因此其員工的雇用並不依賴需國會通過的撥款法案 (appropriations bills)。

美國國土安全局 (Department of Homeland Security) 擬定了「對應聯邦資金缺口期 (hiatus)程序」,其中明定 (designate) 其二十萬員工中的約86% 是屬於「生命安全與財產保障」的「必要」人員。

會繼續工作的有海岸防衛隊 (Coast Guard)、美國海關及邊境保衛局 (Customs and Border Protection )、機場安檢人員 (screening officers)、特勤局 (U.S. Secret Service)。其它相關工作還有:乘客審查 (passenger processing)、港口處貨物檢察 (cargo inspection)、毒品走私客 (drug trafficker) 和非法移民 (undocumented immigrants) 的拘留作業 (detention) (編按:”undocumented”本意是指「沒有證件的、沒有列案的」。在此用法中,拿不出證件的移民就是非法偷渡來的,另一常見的「非法移民」說法是 "illegal immigrants")。

personnel (n) (整體)人員,員工

trek (v) (登山的)健行

ranger (n) 國家公園管理員

軍方一百四十萬現役軍人 (active-duty personnel) 會繼續值勤,但薪水將延後發放。國防部 (Defense Department) 的非軍人員工則會在家無薪休假 (without pay),約有四十萬人。

計畫去美國大峽谷 (Grand Canyon) 或是華盛頓的國家動物園健行 (trek) 的遊客要大失所望了。國家公園將關閉,因為這些場地的管理員 (ranger) 是屬於「非必要」的聯邦政府員工 (non-essentialfederal employees)。

revenue (n) 收入

default (n) (還債、還款的)違約XXXXX* 做各種軟體設定時也常見這個字,意思是「系統預設值

trigger (v) 引發,促使

美國政府關門所帶來的經濟衝擊 (economic impact) 可大可小。如只有數天,任何經濟上的損失、困頓 (financial hardship)可能只有被停職的員工 (furloughed worker)有感覺。如果情況延續數周,觀光收入(revenue) 會消退 (slip),消費者和公司行號也對支出轉為保守 (think twice before spending; 編按:think twice about/ before something 意思是「採取行動之前會多想一想」)。如果一個月內國會還沒有採取行動,政府關門後將隨之而來的是聯邦債違約 (default on the federal debt), 外國資金將擔心美國經濟的健全度 (the strength of the U.S. economy)。若外國資金對美國的還債能力 (ability to pay back loans) 失去信心將引發 (trigger) 調高借貸利率 (interest rates)。情況若再惡化,外國投資客也可能會對購買美國債 (U.S. bonds) 卻步。

alert (v) 使警覺,使注意

聯邦各處會提醒 (alert) 其員工是屬於「必要」或「非必要」人員。在政府關門期間,政府員工依法是不可以執行工作相關業務的 (perform duties),連收取工作的電子郵件 (check work email) 也是違法的。

Language Tips 


staff 是「集合名詞」,指機構內的全部員工。集合名詞是用來指稱一群人的,依照其含義,可以視為單數,也可以是複數,但一個群體即使當成複數來解讀,字尾是不加 “s”的。例一:The staff has/have done a wonderful job this year. (這公司的員工今年的表現很好。) 這裡 "the staff" 可以是「一個群體」,所以動詞用hasthe staff 也可以理解為「這一群體裡的全部的人」,這時是複數概念,動詞使用的是 have。例二:The company has a staff of seven. (這公司有七名員工。) 例句中 " a staff" 不是指「一個員工」,而是「全部員工做為一個群體」的概念,其後接 “of seven” ,意思是「七人組成的」。同此例,當老闆的人可以說 "I have a very good staff." (我有一群很棒的員工。)

切記,不可以造出 I am a staff. . . 這種句子,因為一個人不能成一個群體。如果真要用 staff 這個字來表示自己是某某機構的員工,可以用 “a staff member” 這個說法,意思是「員工群裡的一個成員」,例如:I am a staff member of the FLTC. (我是外教中心的員工。) 但最簡單還是使用 “employee”這個字,例如:I am an employee of the FLTC. 也可用 “work for”的說法:I work for the FLTC.

Check your vocabulary!

Fill in the blanks with a word or phrase from the list above. Make necessary changes. After you finish, select the text below to reveal the hidden answers.

1. The blast came three months after the start of a determined government offensive against the country's cocaine traffickers.

2. Management has announced new procedures for screening applicants.

3. The bank can seize the asset in the event of a default in payment.

4. Talks between the two countries have resumed after a six-year hiatus.

5. The mayor has ordered a four-day furlough for 26,000 city employees.

6. His action triggered a massive response from the government.

7. For five days he trekked across the mountains of central China.


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