What the Partial Shutdown Means, Practically Speaking
While the effects of the government shutdown -- 25 days and counting -- may not be as immediately apparent outside the Capital Beltway as inside it, don’t delude yourself, particularly with respect to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the federal judiciary. Regardless of which side of the wall you stand on, the fact is that issues particularly related to the protection of consumers (even corporate consumers) have largely either ground to a halt or have been substantially curtailed. Translation: This shutdown has created challenges, ranging from mild inconvenience to complete chaos, that sooner or later if not yet, will impact all of us.
While the FCC had funds to operate during the initial days of the shutdown, it has since run out of money. On Jan. 3, as you can see in the red banner below, the FCC suspended most of its operations with limited exception.
80% of staff furloughed, databases may remain operational, but haven’t been updated since Jan. 2. According to information posted on the FCC site, the agency expects to extend filing deadlines scheduled during the shutdown period. However -- and this is important -- the FCC hasn’t automatically done so. It has said that once it reopens, it will consider requests for more time. Regarding responsive pleadings, or filings in response to other documents requiring responses, the FCC has said it will issue extensions by the number of days plus one that the shutdown lasts.
Both mail and the filing windows are open for the limited purposes of receiving documents related to the spectrum auction, which includes the broadcast incentive auction. More generally, the FCC’s long-awaited guidance on the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) has been held up, as have the approvals for new consumer electronics products that require FCC certification prior to release.
The only operations that remain on track are those deemed essential for the protection of property or life or those funded through a source other than the appropriations that have yet to be approved.
The FTC, which is the federal government’s largest consumer protection agency, has been shut down since Dec. 28, 2018. This means that databases haven’t been updated, although some online sources remain available. However, the Do-Not-Call Registry and other important enforcement mechanisms (including investigations) aren’t available. What remains to be seen is how those who rely on the Do-Not-Call Registry, particularly for scrubbing lists to avoid TCPA violations, will be impacted. Interestingly, the FTC’s shutdown has temporarily halted the investigation into Facebook’s data-sharing activities with Cambridge Analytica.
Different departments of the federal government have different priorities, and it’s important to keep this in mind when trying to obtain information or manage other transactions or information with the federal government. A friend of mine who is an assistant U.S. attorney assigned to civil matters, is working only one day in 10 until the government fully reopens. Please note, however, that as an essential service the criminal side of the Department of Justice is mostly operational. As such, it remains a bad time to commit a federal crime. But isn’t that always the case?