The Antideficiency Act

The Antideficiency Act (the Act) generally forbids agencies from continued operation in the absence of appropriations by prohibiting an “officer or employee” of the U.S. government from “mak[ing] or authoriz[ing] an expenditure or obligation” exceeding any amounts available by appropriations or funds allocated for such expenditures or obligations. 31 U.S.C. § 1341. A federal employee also may not involve the government “in a contract or obligation for the payment of money before an appropriation is made unless authorized by law.” Id.

Any action by an executive branch agency necessarily requires funding, at the very least the salary paid to the individual carrying out that action. When those individuals are unpaid, the Act considers those services “voluntary.” 31 U.S.C. § 1342. Those services may only be “accepted” or ordered by the government “for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,” which “do[] not include ongoing, regular functions of government the suspension of which would not imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.”  Those limitations may even apply in cases where so-called “carry over” money and funds from non-appropriated sources are used to pay staff. Here’s the full text of that section of the law:

An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not accept voluntary services for either government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. This section does not apply to a corporation getting amounts to make loans (except paid in capital amounts) without legal liability of the United States Government. As used in this section, the term emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property does not include ongoing, regular functions of government the suspension of which would not imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.

The Act also has consequences for violations of the law. Any individuals who “knowingly and willfully” violate it are subject to administrative discipline, including “suspension from duty without pay or removal from office.” 31 U.S.C. § 1349. For these violations, there are potential criminal penalties, including up to two years in prison. You cannot use a government vehicle for any non-official purpose or transportation between your home and the workplace unless you have received special permission to do so during the shutdown in writing. 31 U.S.C. § 1344.

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