The Federal Government may indeed shutdown your case, or at least delay it for the duration of the crisis. Because of the ongoing conflict between Congress and the President over government funding, the various appropriations for federal agencies began to lapse for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2013. The Anti-Deficiency Act1 prohibits federal agencies from “making or authorizing an expenditure” or obligating the government to pay money unless authorized by law. Also prohibited are voluntary services or employing personal services not authorized by law.2 Thus, no appropriation law equals a federal government shutdown.
But the Federal Government funding process is not that simple. First, the Anti-Deficiency Act excepts personnel needed in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. Second, some federal agencies are funded on a permanent or multi-year basis and are not affected by the current lack of an appropriations law. Third, some federal agencies have money left over from last fiscal year that they may carry over to maintain operations during this fiscal year. Finally, agencies that rely on funding from fees will be able to operate as long as the fees sustain them. Therefore, the impact on the various energy regulatory bodies varies.
Department of Energy (DOE): The DOE will continue operations using surplus from previous years. After that, the DOE will have slightly more than 4,000 employees available out of its normal 13,814. Employees available include 937 excepted personnel and 3,106 funded by other than annual appropriations. The DOE functions related to nuclear safety and power administration will remain active. You can find the DOE’s plan here.
Department of Justice (DOJ): Although DOJ’s plan calls for 96,000 of its 114,000 employees to be excepted, DOJ lawyers are seeking stays in many actions across the country. Generally, criminal litigation will continue under the safety exception and civil litigation may be curtailed. You can find the DOJ’s plan here.
Federal Courts: The Federal Courts plan to remain open until about October 15, 2013 and then re-assess their funding status. Although Article III Judges are exempt from the Anti-Deficiency Act many other judges like Federal Magistrate Judges and Bankruptcy Judges could be affected if the lapse in appropriations continues.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC): FERC plans to retain 3.3% of its workforce after carry-over funds are exhausted. The 5-member commission will remain at work. Hydroelectric and Liquefied Natural Gas Project inspections will continue under the emergency exception. FERC will conduct minimal monitoring of the market and electric reliability. FERC will request stays in legal and enforcement matters. You can find FERC’s plan here.
EPA: Approximately 5 % of EPA’s personnel will be available to work in a shutdown. The EPA will continue to litigate matters related to the emergency exception but will otherwise request stays. The EPA will support the DOJ’s enforcement actions as needed. You can find the EPA’s plan here.
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) -- Approximately 158 PHMSA employees will be excepted from furlough, along with 9 related support personnel in order to carry on certain pipeline investigations and inspections, enforcement actions and hazardous materials approvals deemed essential to life and safety concerns. This amounts to approximately 38 percent of PHMSA’s work force. The full Department of Transportation plan, including the PHMSA plan, can be found here.