There have been two U.S. government shutdowns in recent history, Nov 1995 and Dec 1995. Looming government shutdowns seem to be a bit of a joke as read here, or on NPR

Still, with so many federal agencies deemed essential, it's unclear whether most Americans will even notice if the government is shut down.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines "essential" government services and "essential" employees as those:

  • Providing for the national security;

  • Providing for benefit payments and the performance of contract obligations under no-year or multi-year or other funds remaining available for those purposes;

  • Conducting essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property

The OMB also requires that government agencies have a plan for what to do. The Clinton administration published some of the following as its estimates of the effects of the previous government shutdowns:

  • Medicare: 400,000 newly eligible participants were delayed in enrolling.

  • Social Security: Claims from 112,000 applicants were not processed. 212,000 new or replacement Social Security cards were not issued. 360,000 office visits were denied. 800,000 toll-free calls for information were not answered.

  • State Department: 80,000 passport applications delayed. 80,000 visas delayed. The resulting postponement or cancellation of travel hurt US.. airlines, hotels and tourist industry.

  • National Parks: 2 million visitors turned away from national museums and monuments.

  • IRS Enforcement: The Treasury Department lost $400 million of revenue from the shutdown of the IRS Enforcement Division.

Although the same article notes:

Thus, most of the American public should not be terribly inconvenienced by a temporary federal government shutdown. Unfortunately, the people who will immediately feel the effects of the government shutdown are the hundreds of thousands of nonessential government employees who will be immediately furloughed. However, if history is any indication, they will not suffer lasting severe hardship since, as we previously noted, in the 1995 and 1996 shutdown, these nonessential government employees were eventually paid not to work.

What percentage did those hundreds of thousands of nonessential government employees represent? (as a number of people, and as a percentage of the personnel budget?**

Would that percentage be relatively the same today? (Does the OMB consider more employees essential now?)

  • To clarify, only a small portion of say, NSA or CIA eworkers are deemed "essential," even though they are doing national security work. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 11:33
  • @AffableGeek - given their size, I would expect that there are plenty of people employed by CIA who do random "large bureaucracy" type work that is not strictly speaking national security. I'm sure they have their own logo designers, compliance and diversity departments, people responsible for organizing junkets for big brass, yadd yadda. Probably more of those than a random large corporation, too. NSA may be different (or at least was) as it's less of a large bureaucracy.
    – user4012
    Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 15:37
  • I'm heartened that the spies will still get paid for spying on us. Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 21:17
  • It's not actually the Federal Non-essential workforce that will be affected long-term (assuming they are paid in the end, as has happened in the past), it is the US Federal Contract workforce (e.g. contractors). The contract workforce is definitely not paid for work not done. Some will be allowed to use vacation, in the short-term, but their parent companies will not be receiving any payments during the shutdown, and even the largest can't afford to pay workers from overhead for long.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 16:43

1 Answer 1


For the entire federal civilian force the number is estimated at 900,000 which is about 43 percent.

This varies greatly by department as shown here for the current (October 2013) shutdown.

enter image description here

Note, my information comes from GovExec.

What was the percentage back in the Clinton-era shutdown?

I could figure that out for you, but the census bureau has been furloughed and their page containing federal employee statistics has been turned off.

enter image description here

  • "but the census bureau has been furloughed". Ah lovely. Next thing you know, the people tracking the money will be furloughed because of the money they track. Then we can all free associate in the dark. Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 21:25
  • If a one-day furlough of people responsible for web page results in an outage, those people shouldn't be furloughed. They should be fired for gross incompetence.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 16:34
  • 3
    @user4012 I think it was a deliberate act of turning it off, rather than bit rot.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 0:07

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