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Old 01-15-2019, 08:09 AM
Ravenman is offline
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 25,428
Originally Posted by TSBG View Post
But...don't I have a cause of action for unpaid wages? What if the paycheck is suddenly 80% of what was promised?

I know the government operates under different rules than private business, hoping for enlightenment.
The main difference between a contract for employment with a private company and a contract for employment with the Federal government as it pertains to this situation is Article I, section 9 of the Constitution, which reads: "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law."

The main effect here is that for the Federal government, a contractual obligation to an employee (or a contract for services, goods, etc) cannot override the Constitution -- BUT... the constitutional provision allows for Congress to write laws that provide "permanent and indefinite" authority for the Government to address various funding matters in case of a shutdown.

So as others have accurately described, exceptions exist to avoid a total and catastrophic shutdown. One key law, which doesn't actually apply in this situation but illustrates the law in play here, is the Feed and Forage Act. It is a permanent authority that allows the Government to sustain members of the military during periods where funding is unavailable. Therefore, troops shall continue to work during a shutdown, and the Feed and Forage Act complies with Art I sec 9 as a law allowing them to earn pay even if there are no appropriations available for that purpose.

Otherwise, in absence of such a law and similar laws, the constitutional presumption is that if no appropriations are available, the Government cannot make obligations that bind itself to future payment, because Congress has not approved the use of funds for such purposes.

It may also help to explain two critical parts of fiscal law: an obligation and an expenditure. An obligation is a contractual duty that the Government signs up to for payment of something, typically at a future date. An expenditure is the action of money leaving the Treasury to fulfill an obligation. So in other words, I sign a contract with you for me to buy an F-35 (an obligation) and as soon as you deliver it I give you the money I promised (the expenditure). Appropriations are actually the legal authority for the Government to make obligations, as opposed to the legal authority to make expenditures under obligations.

This is why employees are subject to furlough: the Government agreed to pay them a certain amount for their work. The unavailability of funds during a shutdown doesn't simply mean that the Government is prohibited from making expenditures for their paychecks: it means the Government is prohibited from letting them do work that with essentially indebt the Government to the employee; in other words, the Government can't make the obligation or the expenditure.