Who's Essential?

Lessons from the government shutdown.


When the federal government shut down on November 13, 1995, "nonessential" government employees were sent home–an estimated 800,000 workers, 42 percent of the civilian staff. (All active military personnel remained on duty.)

Apparently, some federal workers and agencies are more essential than others. Before the shutdown, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that 67 percent of the Commerce Department's staff was nonessential, along with 89 percent at Education, and a whopping 99 percent at HUD.

Those numbers bolster the case of Republicans who had proposed dismantling or eliminating those departments and the Energy Department. (The Departments of Energy and Agriculture already had their 1996 appropriations approved and were therefore not affected by the shutdown.) However, it appears that even these predominately "nonessential" agencies will survive the supposedly draconian Republican budget cuts.