Nation braces for government shutdown

At least 800,000 of the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers will be required to stay home Tuesday if the government shuts down as a result of Republican grandstanding. Entrances to all 410 national parks from the Redwood forests to the shores of Maine will be sealed shut. Hundreds of thousands will have a wrench thrown into their travel plans as offices that issue visas and passports are shuttered and traffic controllers are barred from their airport towers.

Supervisors at government operations from one end of the country to the other huddled with their staff Thursday to decide who is “nonessential” and can be told to stay home Tuesday. Details on the shutdown and who should stay home were being posted on bulletin boards and sent out over the Internet as this story was being posted.

The union that represents federal workers is preparing for the worst. “Half of our members will be locked out of work altogether during this,” said J.David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Half will be expected to work without a paycheck,” he added.

Things that would not stop immediately on Tuesday include operations thought to be critical to national security such as border patrol, law enforcement and emergency and disaster assistance. Social Security and Medicare benefits would not stop next week but there could be delays in getting out payments and there will definitely be delays in processing new applicants.

Federal government workers on whom tens of millions of Americans depend are fearful, frustrated and angry. “We have had to devote time and resources to develop yet another crisis plan, distracting workers from their critically important missions,” said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. The situation has already harmed the public, she said. “And if the government shuts down, the public will be further harmed by the loss of vital services people need and depend upon.”

Countless agencies and offices have developed contingency plans.

In addition to the national parks, museums, libraries and educational institutions will be hard hit too. A spokesperson for the Smithsonian, Linda St. Thomas, said most of the 6,400 workers at 19 museums would be furloughed. The Smithsonian will not open at all on Tuesday. Tourists who have gone through the time and expense of planning vacations in the nation’s capital including trips to the National Air and Space Museum, for example, will be out of luck.

Courthouses will also have to close on Tuesday but federal courts say they can stay open for at least a week in the event of a shutdown by raiding their petty cash boxes, so to speak. They plan to use court fees and other funds they have not yet turned in to the government. Court staff performing essential work will be told to report to work but they will have to work without pay.

The environment could well suffer some blows in the event of a shutdown with the Environmental Protection Administration shutting down almost completely. The only ones out of its 17,000 workers who will be allowed to report to work are the personnel in charge of implementing the shutdown itself.

NASA too will be shut down, and if the shutdown lasts long enough a launch scheduled for Nov. 6 will have to be postponed. According to NASA spokesperson Bob Jacobs, nearly all of the agency’s 18,000 employees will be told to stay home Tuesday.

Concerns have been raised about the safety of astronauts currently living on the International Space Station. If the government shuts down NASA will “continue to support” the space mission, according to the agency. The astronauts themselves could not be reached for comment.

Photo: Government agencies, including NASA, will be forced to shutdown because of Republican intransigence. (NASA)





John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.