News Column

Federal Government Shutdown Begins

October 1, 2013

By Tracie Mauriello

Federal Government Shutdown

Warren Shaub was supposed to take his sons to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to look at dinosaur bones today. Instead, they'll go to the U.S. Capitol to protest the Washington gridlock that ruined the Kutztown, Pa., family's vacation plans.

A partisan fight over implementation of the Affordable Care Act has forced a government shutdown that caused the Smithsonian museums, national parks and numerous federal offices to shut their doors or curtail services. Also facing a shutdown would be the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, Pa., according to Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

"This was supposed to be an educational trip, and we'll get education in there one way or another," said Mr. Shaub, explaining that the shutdown will be a civics lesson in itself for Tiberius, 12, and Harrison, 8.

The family tried to make the best of it Monday while museums were still open. "There's so much to do here, and we're going to miss out on it," Mr. Shaub said.

The family's first stop was the National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian's most popular museum.

Around them, tour guides, security guards and gift-shop employees continued their work as usual, pausing occasionally to ask each other when they would know if the shutdown would occur.

Most federal employees were expected to report to work today only long enough to shut down their programs, secure their buildings and change their voice-mail messages. That was expected to take no more than three or four hours, according to directives issued by several agency heads. Public safety employees and presidential appointees would still work after that, but many other federal workers would not.

The Energy Department, for example, determined that only 1,113 of its 14,000 workers are needed "to protect life and property."

Some agencies' directives warned that the Antideficiency Act makes it a federal crime to perform nonessential work, even for no pay, amid a government shutdown. Employees in some agencies were told that they should not access their work email accounts during a furlough. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is going a step further, disabling its email server along with employee cell phones.

The National Park Service will turn away day visitors and give campers already inside two days to leave.

The Federal Aviation Administration expects to furlough a third of its 46,000 employees, but air traffic control services and safety inspections won't be affected.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration will stop audits, facilities planning, routine background investigations of personnel, employee drug testing, financial reporting and more.

The Army Corps of Engineers, including its Pittsburgh office, will close recreation areas, stop processing regulatory permits and stop maintaining locks and dams.

Mr. Shaub says none of that is necessary. He blames House Republicans for tying overall federal funding to efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. "They're like schoolyard bullies. Holding all that up over Obamacare is crazy," he said.

Mr. Shaub said he's a fan of the Affordable Care Act, but that he'd rather pay the penalty -- as much as $95 a year, or 1 percent of salary -- than sign up. A self-employed auto mechanic, he said he can't afford health insurance and is too proud to accept a government subsidy to pay for it.

"I don't need it," he said. "The last time I cut myself, I stitched it myself," he said.

His boys are covered under their mother's health insurance.

The shutdown has no effect on enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges, which open today. The exchanges are funded through Medicaid, a mandatory spending area not subject to congressional approval. It also does not affect self-sustaining agencies, such as the Postal Service.

Original: "Federal government shutdown begins; agencies begin to deal with closure"
(c)2013 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: (c) 2013 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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