The U.S. government partially shut down on December 22 after lawmakers failed to agree on appropriations to fund certain federal operations. The shutdown impacts hundreds of thousands of government employees, nine federal departments, and several agencies, including the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which are jointly responsible for antitrust enforcement.
The DOJ and FTC both have contingency plans in place to govern operations in the event of a lapse in appropriations. Under these plans, in accordance with federal law, employees will be furloughed during the shutdown with limited exceptions, including for employees performing work considered essential to protect safety or property. The DOJ projects that roughly 40% of Antitrust Division personnel (264 employees) will be excepted from furlough, while the FTC estimates that 43% of employees in the Bureau of Competition (132 employees) will continue to work. Because the shutdown began on a weekend followed by federal holidays on December 24 and 25, the agencies will begin an orderly wind-down of operations on December 26.
Companies planning transactions and parties with matters before the federal antitrust authorities should consult antitrust counsel to understand how they may be impacted by these developments and strategize accordingly. They should also be mindful that this shutdown is the third to occur in the last two years. Even if the U.S. Congress passes a continuing resolution in the short term in order to reopen the government, another impasse and its attendant antitrust implications may loom in the near future.