So what is a Federal Government shutdown? Well, for starters, it’s not a shutdown.
It’s the result of the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act. Among other things, it required that Congress must authorize funding for the federal government. This is something, in the 44 years since it has passed, it has failed to do on time in 36.4% of the budget cycles, or 16 of the past 44 years . With continuing resolutions in the same cycle, it has happened 22 times.
This did not always mean a shutdown. The first six times this happened, it was business as usual. A series of opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti in 1980 and 1981 established that, if a funding gap exists, the agency or agencies impacted must shut down. This, in turn, was his interpretation of the 1884 Antideficiency Act.
The first time any agency was shut down as a result was during the 18-hour shutdown of the FTC on May 1, 1980.
Funding gaps result in shutdowns only when those agencies are without Congressionally-approved funding. Essential services, like the Department of Defense, are largely unaffected.
- The longest shutdown: December 22, 2018 – January 16, 2019 @ 9:59 am ET, still ongoing, under Donald Trump. [Update: Added January 12, 2018]
- The longest shutdown: December 16, 1995 – January 6, 1996 under Bill Clinton.
- The shortest shutdown: February 9, 2018 for about nine hours, under Donald Trump.
- The only two presidents who had an actual partial or full shutdown while the same party controlled the executive and legislative branches? Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump.
U.S. Federal Government Funding Gaps
Editor’s Note: We incorrectly initially listed the 1995 shutdown as beginning on December 5th, 1995. It began December 16, 1995. We regret this error.