With another government shutdown looming in the not so far distance, now is a great time to learn more about them and their effects.  There are some excellent resources available if you would like to research more in this area, most are freely available on the internet or through our library!

Government shutdowns have a long history in the United States, with various events shaping their development.  The first recorded government shutdown occurred in 1879 when President Rutherford B. Hayes and Congress disagreed over funding for the U.S. Army's support of federal troops during a labor strike.  Subsequent shutdowns took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, often due to disputes over tariffs and spending.

The contemporary era of government shutdowns began in the late 20th century. The 1995-96 government shutdown was a significant event during President Bill Clinton's tenure. The shutdown was precipitated by a budgetary impasse between the Republican-controlled Congress and President Clinton, leading to the closure of government services for 21 days.  At 34 days, the longest government shutdown was also the most recent, from late 2018 to early 2019, during former President Donald Trump's administration.

To learn more about this history, and the factors which led to them, the government itself is a great source of information and analysis.  Many agencies provide well-researched articles on their website, such as this account of the 1879 shutdown by the National Park Service. The White House Office of Management and Budget has a list of contingency plans for each agency on its website, providing information to the public on impact to services and frequently asked questions. Other branches have historical information and analysis on their websites, such as this table of Funding Gaps, on the House of Representatives website, and this staff report The True Cost of Government Shutdowns from the Senate (spoiler its more than you think).

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a federal legislative branch agency located within the Library of Congress, works exclusively for Congress, providing timely, objective, and authoritative research and analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of political party affiliation. The Reports they generate are available freely to the public and are a treasure trove of information and analysis.  Reports on this topic include: “Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes and Effects (updated Dec. 10, 2018)”; “Past Government Shutdowns: Key Resources (updated Sep. 22, 2023)”; and “Economic Effects of Government Shutdowns (Sep. 22, 2023).”  CRS also provides records of testimony before Congress, such as this statement given by Clinton T. Brass before the Senate on February 6, 2018, “Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Ways of Funding Government: Exploring the Cost to Taxpayers of Spending Uncertainty Caused by Governing Through Continuing Resolutions, Giant Omnibus Spending Bills, and Shutdown Crises.”

While CRS Reports are available on their government website, the Library also provides access to Proquest Legislative Insight and Proquest Congressional, which allow users to see CRS Reports in context with other government documents compiled in legislative histories.  Both Proquest Legislative Insight and Proquest Congressional can be accessed through our Top Law Databases list on the Library’s website.

The Library also provides faculty and students with access to Bloomberg Law News, which is a great tool for current awareness. Users can set alerts based on topics such as “Federal Budget” or “Government Employees” and receive emails when stories are published on these topics.

Another popular library resource are research guides, a collection of librarian curated resources on a specific topic.  They provide links to primary law, secondary resources, and databases on the topic.  A couple of great research guides on this topic include, Federal Government Shutdown: SHUTDOWN! from Berkeley Library and Federal Government Shutdown from Columbia University Libraries.

For more information on these resources or other tactics for researching in government documents, contact a Reference Librarian and we’d be happy to help!

Submitted by Manriquez,Elizabeth on September 27, 2023

This article appears in the categories: Law Library