Transportation Department Furloughs Thousands of Workers

The Transportation Department on Friday furloughed 3,700 employees, sending the workers home without pay after Congress allowed authorization for federal highway programs to expire.

The workers were a casualty of an ongoing debate over infrastructure spending. A package to fund roads, bridges and other projects has bipartisan support and the White House’s backing, but congressional Democrats are delaying a House vote until they can negotiate an agreement on a larger measure to boost the social safety net and support other Biden administration priorities.

The infrastructure bill—which already passed the Senate—is set to reauthorize the surface transportation programs, but the delays allowed the authorization to expire Friday morning.

The Federal Highway Administration is the most impacted entity at Transportation, according to department contingency plans, with 94% of its more than 2,700 employees slated for furlough.

The Federal Transit Administration was planning to send home 88% of its roughly 600 workers, while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also expected to feel significant impacts.

The Federal Highway Administration said it would cease all operations not necessary to protect life and property or funded through a source other than the Highway Trust Fund, similar to how most agencies operate under a government shutdown.

Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown Thursday, which—absent the authorization lapse—would have barely impacted the agency. Instead, it has ceased all federal-aid highway programs, stopped providing apportioned funding to states and canceled all construction projects relying on funding not previously obligated.

“The administration is continuing to work closely with Congress to swiftly reauthorize surface transportation programs and bring back the approximately 3,700 hard-working employees who are temporarily furloughed right now,” a Transportation spokesperson said.

Congress is currently working on a stopgap measure to reauthorize highway programs for 30 days, The Hill reported on Friday.


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