This is a joint post with Connie Veillette.

On the eve of a seemingly imminent U.S. government shutdown, it’s unclear what it would mean for U.S. programs and policies around the globe. While some initial guidance is coming to light, there is much uncertainty and this will grow if the shutdown lasts more than a few days. One thing is clear: the shutdown showdown is bad for effective development assistance.

As of this afternoon, both USAID and MCC have posted shutdown contingency plans. Each outlines which positions would be “excepted” from a shutdown and furloughs. (Following the 1996 government shutdown, agencies tend to use the term “excepted” rather than “essential” in an apparent effort to boost staff morale and not imply that anyone is “non-essential.” Charles De Gaulle might say “graveyards are full of indispensable men” but we’ll put that aside for now.)

For the most part, presidential appointees, staff who protect life and property, support staff for “excepted” employees, and those who need to plan the shutdown will all stay on the job. Those engaged in national security-related foreign relations activities (some embassy staff, for example) will also keep working. (For an overview of general government shutdown planning operations, check out Josh Rogin’s post and his link to the Congressional Research Service primer on what happens.)

Here’s what we know:

  • USAID: 383 of USAID’s 2011 DC-based direct hires will stay on the job. USAID overseas staff numbers will be calculated once decisions by USAID chiefs of mission are finalized. Unless otherwise specified, USAID expects previously awarded grant and contract programs to continue.
  • MCC: 58 of 285 staff will keep working (that number could rise to 77 depending how long the shutdown lasts), including the CEO, 19 resident country directors and other employees needed to carry out the shutdown and continue operations. MCC compacts are fully funded from past appropriations, so MCC will keep funding compact projects that have been approved.

So how about the known unknowns (hat tip: Rumsfeld)?

1.       Travel: USAID, MCC and other federal employess travelling on government business have to stay tuned and may have to stay put (it’s still unclear whether they can use government BlackBerrys after Monday to sort out getting home).

2.       Pay: It will be up to Congress to determine whether furloughed employees will get back pay if/when an appropriations bill is finally passed. (NB: Members of Congress are being paid throughout.)

3.       Impact: Hundreds of federal employees in the development agencies have spent most of this week planning for a government shutdown at the expense (literally) of their day jobs. I cringe to think how much federal time and money is spent merely planning for the event of a shutdown, let alone carrying out the contingency operations. All of which means less time getting down to the business of development. It’s worth noting that the World Bank-International Monetary Fund spring meetings begin April 11 and there are many bilateral development meetings planned that will likely be scrapped in the event of a shutdown.

Federal employees will keep scrambling to digest the latest guidance and await formal notification of their employment status should the clock strike midnight tonight without a budget deal. In the meantime, we already know that the mere prospect of a shutdown and all of the uncertainty is a bad way to run the government and is no way to maintain U.S. leadership (or effectiveness) in global development.

As details continue to emerge, please use the comments field below to tell us what you know and what you think!