Congress has yet to pass a continuing resolution that would keep the government open when the new fiscal year begins tomorrow, and it's starting to look like a government shutdown is real possibility.
If Congress can't get it together and the government is forced to close up shop, several enforcement agencies and business regulators would have to scale back operations to only essential functions that are exempt from closure. Exactly what that means is unclear. According to a plan of operations released by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, “the functions that qualify as exceptions include those related to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, including law enforcement functions.”
The SEC's contingency plan detailed what functions would remain operating in the event of a shutdown and what functions will be temporarily shuttered until a budget gets approved. On the law enforcement and litigation side, the SEC will continue to pursue emergency enforcement matters, including temporary restraining orders and investigations necessary to protect property. The SEC says it will also keep open and monitor its whistleblower tips line and conduct litigation that can't be deferred. The SEC says it will not open new investigations and will attempt to defer what litigation it can. It will also put a hold on pursuing delinquent debts and distributing funds to harmed investors.
All SEC filings should continue as normal. The SEC says it will keep open systems for securities filings, including EDGAR, and it will continue to answer questions about filings. It will also continue to monitor securities markets, broker dealers, and money market funds. Since the SEC is already stretched thin, however, and many staffers would be forced to stay home, it likely those functions would suffer greatly. According to the contingency plan, as few as 252 of the SEC's 4, 149 employees would stay on the job in the event of a shutdown.
Among the more important functions the SEC carries out that will be discontinued are the review and approval of registrations for securities offerings. That could delay some initial public offerings. Twitter, for example, planned to make its IPO public this week, which could be difficult if the government shuts down and the SEC puts a hold on reviewing its registration statement.
A government shutdown would affect several other regulators as well. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission also issued a memo last week outlining the functions that would continue and what would be put on hold. According to the plan, only 28 of the agency's 680 employees have been identified as essential. “The Limited contingent of excepted employees has been identified to ensure, to the extent practicable, that a bare minimum level of oversight and surveillance of the futures markets, clearing operations, and intermediaries is maintained. However, the vast bulk of the CFTC's oversight and surveillance functions will cease during a lapse of appropriations,” the agency said in the memo.
The Federal Reserve, which is self-funded would avoid most effects of a government shutdown.