How the Federal Workforce is Impacted During a Government Shutdown

How the Federal Workforce is Impacted During a Government Shutdown

Government shutdowns have a profound effect on our nation’s federal employees and the public—curtailing the ability of civil servants to do their jobs and provide crucial public benefits, conduct scientific research, manage the economy, address national security challenges and more. 

Shutdowns occur when Congress does not pass the necessary appropriations bills to fund agencies’ operations. During shutdowns, federal employees are impacted in a variety of ways. Civil servants cannot be paid if the necessary appropriations have not been passed and thus, some federal employees must continue to work without pay for the duration of a shutdown while many others are furloughed until new appropriations bills are approved. The analysis below shows the size and scope of the federal workforce as well as how it would be affected by a shutdown.

Unless otherwise noted, data in this analysis are for the civilian workforce of the executive branch as of March 2023 and do not include employees of the legislative or judicial branches, the intelligence community, the U.S. Postal Service, foreign service officers or locally employed staff within the Department of State, or uniformed military personnel. Contractors also are not included. Percentages throughout may not appear to add up to 100 due to rounding.

The Federal Workforce by Location

While the federal government is most often closely associated with Washington, D.C. and its suburbs, at least 80% of the federal workforce works outside of the D.C. region. 

Federal employees work across all 50 states, as shown on the map below. An additional 263,546 federal employees work across the U.S., but data on their locations is not publicly available due to security reasons. There are also more than 50,000 federal employees who work in U.S. territories and foreign countries, and these employees can also be affected by a shutdown.

Federal Employees During a Shutdown

During a shutdown, federal employees generally fall into three categories: those whose salaries are financed through means other than annual appropriations and so continue to work and be paid; those who are furloughed; and those who continue to work without pay, also known as “excepted” employees. Neither furloughed nor excepted employees receive pay for the duration of a shutdown, although a law passed in 2019 guarantees these employees receive back pay once a shutdown ends.

To prepare for a shutdown, federal agencies publish contingency plans that detail how their operations will be affected if a shutdown occurs—which activities will continue and which will pause until the shutdown ends. These plans also include details of how many agency employees are expected to fall into each of the three categories. 

The visualization below shows the breakdown between the three categories for 24 of the largest federal agencies. The proportion of the workforce in each category varies between agencies, depending on their work and sources of funding. Choose an agency below to see how its workforce would be affected by a shutdown.

Active-Duty Service Members During a Shutdown

Civilian federal employees are not the only group affected by shutdowns. Active-duty service members also are affected. During a shutdown, they are required to continue reporting for duty even if they do not receive a paycheck. During the 2018-2019 partial shutdown, Congress approved the Defense Department appropriations bill and the military was paid except for 42,000 members of the Coast Guard who are funded through Department of Homeland Security. This was the first time such a lapse occurred for active-duty service members. Congress could pass legislation guaranteeing pay for all 1.3 million active-duty military members across the nation and around the world in the event of a shutdown, but no such legislation was in place as of the time of writing this report. Additionally, 439,000 civilian employees in the DOD will be furloughed, as shown above.

The charts below show the breakdown by state and military branch of the over 1.3 million active-duty servicemembers at risk of not getting paid during a government shutdown. 


The public deserves a government that delivers on its mission, which requires the important work of the entire federal workforce. The data above highlights the direct impact that a federal government shutdown can have on millions of civilian federal employees and active-duty military personnel. However, these are not the only people impacted by a shutdown. Many federal contractors would be adversely affected, forcing more furloughs or layoffs of employees. Additionally, there is the impact on the families of federal employees and military members. Ultimately, shutdowns significantly hamper our government’s ability to provide critical services to the public.