Government Shutdown Week 2: Bay Area Impact Widens

A couple leaves Muir Woods in Marin County, one of many National Park Service sites in the Bay Area closed during this month's federal government shutdown. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A couple leaves Muir Woods in Marin County, one of many National Park Service sites in the Bay Area closed during this month’s federal government shutdown. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

With the government shutdown in its second week, thousands of employees are still furloughed, “nonessential” government services are still closed and confused tourists remain, well, confused.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been furloughed, including many of the 48,000 or so estimated civilian workers in the Bay Area. More may be sent home soon, as the Department of Energy is reportedly deciding whether to order the furlough of 6,000 workers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The shutdown’s impact keeps rippling outward. Federal paychecks and government assistance checks could soon be disrupted, as they were during the shutdowns of 1995-96.The unintended consequences of the shutdown will reach further, ranging from the relatively trivial — National Zoo’s panda cam going dark — to the potentially profound —  the closure of a nationwide nutrition program for mothers and children and the suspension of U.S.-funded Antarctic research programs.

Here’s what’s still shut down locally:

Parks and tourist sites: Tourism is a major industry in San Francisco and the region’s national parks draw about 17 million people per year. But since the National Park Service has suspended operations, would-be Bay Area park visitors will have to make other plans. Many businesses that have National Park Service contracts or are otherwise dependent on park visitors are out of luck. A high-profile case in point: San Francisco’s Cliff House, whose owners attempted to open this week only to have federal officials force them to “re-close.” (The San Francisco Chronicle has the story: “It’s last call, for now, at famous Cliff House.”)

The Cliff House near Land's End in San Francisco is closed due to the federal shutdown. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)
The Cliff House near Land’s End in San Francisco is closed due to the federal shutdown. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

Sarah Lorenzini rests on the steps at Land's End after a run on Oct. 9, 2013. Even though the lookout and gift shop are closed, she's still able to enjoy running at the park. But she also wants the shutdown to end soon. “ It's frustrating because neither party in Washington can get their crap together and it's affecting people.” Lorenzini said. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)
Sarah Lorenzini rests on the steps at Land’s End after a run on Oct. 9, 2013. Even though the lookout and gift shop are closed, she’s still able to enjoy running at the park. But she also wants the shutdown to end soon. “ It’s frustrating because neither party in Washington can get their crap together and it’s affecting people.” Lorenzini said. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

Courts: Federal courts continue to operate normally using reserve funds. On or around Oct. 15, the courts plan to reassess the situation and may institute furloughs and closures.

Post offices: The U.S. Postal Service, which has an independent source of revenue, remains open and mail deliveries continue.

Passport offices: Passport and visa services have largely stayed open, since they pay for themselves with fees. But where those offices are inside closed federal buildings, they have shut down.

Military personnel and facilities: All active-duty personnel in all branches have been unaffected by a shutdown. Civilian contract workers were initially subject to furlough, but the Defense Department has recalled most of them.

Department of Veterans Affairs: Hospitals and medical services have remained open. But, some claims processing and other functions will be suspended, including the ability to process rehab benefits and hold hearings. The department has issued a Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown to help veterans navigate what is and is not working.

The department has also said that if the shutdown lasts more than two or three weeks, it will run out of money to pay disability and pension benefits, according to The Washington Post.

Social Security: All checks are being mailed on schedule and the Social Security Administration continues to provide basic services.

Internal Revenue Service: The agency furloughed roughly 90 percent of its employees. Services like live customer service have been suspended. Audits have been suspended but all tax deadlines remain in place.

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control: As an essential function, all operations have continued as normal.

Amtrak: The national passenger rail network continues to operate.. But the system gets 12 percent of its operating budget from the federal government and could be forced to suspend some service if the shutdown lasts for several weeks.

Patents and trademarks: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says it has reserve funds to operate normally for four weeks. After that, it will stay open as long as current fee collections allow it to continue operations.

The Commerce Department is responsible for issuing patents and trademark registration, and is operating as usual on reserve fees from last year. The agency said it expects to operate normally for approximately four weeks, but is assessing how it will operate after that time. The office will close if it runs out of reserve funds, while keeping a small staff on hand to accept new applications.

Regulatory agencies: The Department of Homeland Security is not operating its E-Verify program, which allows employers to verify employee eligibility. The EPA has been almost entirely shut down. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission is largely shut down. The Securities Exchange Commission is open, though.

Federal housing and nutrition benefits: Federal housing vouchers have been suspended and public housing authorities have not been receiving payments, though in most cases payments only come every month or every two weeks. In many cases, officials say, the local and state agencies have enough cash to operate through the end of the month. While Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (known as WIC) local offices have remained open, the federal government has stopped funding the program, which provides vouchers for food for low-income families. The USDA estimates that many vouchers for October were already paid out and most states have enough money on hand to continue operations for a few weeks.

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  • Patrick Bryant

    I am contractor for a Federal Agency employed as a cyber security incident responder. I would still be at my post – without pay – were I not prohibited by federal law from working. During this shutdown, I am going without pay, and unlike Civil Service employees, there has been no bill passed by the House to reimburse contractors for their lost wages.

    This situation creates very serious immediate and long term dangers for our nation caused by a convergence of factors:

    1) The information systems of the United States Government are under continual attack from sophisticated and well-funded foreign governments. The Department of Defense has characterized cyber security attacks as a greater risk to national security than terrorism. At this moment, practically no one is working to repel those attacks. We are in fact engaged in a cyber war right now with other nations. And at this moment – no one is guarding the fort.
    2) Under normal circumstances, the US Government has a serious shortage of trained personnel to maintain countermeasures to those cyber attacks. Most of the personnel that do exist are now furloughed contractors, who have no hope of reimbursement once they return to work.
    3) Since the private sector has a similar shortage of trained cyber security personnel, it behooves those of us who are employed as Federal contractors to seek more reliable employment elsewhere. This will only increase the personnel shortage and exacerbate the risks to the information systems that are an essential part of Federal Government operations.

    Some may argue that shutdowns have occurred before, and nothing catastrophic happened. But when the last shutdown occurred – 17 years ago – the Federal Government was still using typewriters.

    I have no doubt that several hostile foreign governments are currently celebrating their unfettered freedom to compromise the security and operational integrity of the Federal Government’s computers and networks. And I am challenged to express in words how demoralizing it is to be considered “non-essential” and to be summarily tossed off our jobs and told to eek out an existence without pay.

    Those of us who work as cyber security contractors for the Federal Government are generally paid less than our counterparts in the private sector. Patriotism and pride in our mission is a large part of our compensation. But pride and patriotism won’t pay our bills, feed our children, or compensate for the lost wages caused by unreliable employment.

Author

Kelly O'Mara

Kelly O'Mara is a writer and reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about food, health, sports, travel, business and California news. Her work has appeared on KQED, online for Outside Magazine and in Competitor Magazine, among others.

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