Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub isn’t required to stay home today in the midst of a government shutdown. But there’s hardly a point to her visiting the agency’s office at 999 E. St. NW in downtown Washington, D.C. “I’d literally be the one turning the lights on,” said Weintraub, one of just four FEC employees among 339 the government has deemed “essential” during the shutdown. “My entire staff has been furloughed, so working — it’s what I can do on my own, along with my three colleagues on the commission.” And that’s not much. Phone calls to agency workers ring to voicemails, emails go unreturned and audits and enforcement cases and investigations are on ice until further notice. As Tuesday afternoon arrived, the FEC also appeared to stop uploading documents for public consumption, from candidate income and expenditure reports to notifications of political action committee formations.
People may attempt to file reports during the shutdown, but the FEC’s computer systems only have so much capacity. If they crash, there’s nobody around to fix them.
“I don’t know how to personally post the reports — I’m a little out of my league there,” said Weintraub, adding that she’ll personally prepare for upcoming agency meetings and review files during the shutdown. “The public will have to go without disclosures until we open back up.”
Weintraub also noted that the FEC won’t penalize committees who find they can’t file reports on time, although they’ll have to submit them within 24 hours of the government starting back up.
“We can’t penalize people for doing what can’t be done,” she said.
The FEC has faced sustained criticism that it’s one of the government’s more dysfunctional agencies, prone to deadlocking on high-profile cases and skilled at meting out justice with sloth-like urgency. The shutdown, therefore, has prompted some agency observers to chide the FEC on Twitter, joking that the government shutdown will mimick the status quo.