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How the federal government shutdown affects Alaska

Laurel Andrews

Congress locked the doors on the U.S. government as the clock struck midnight in Washington, D.C., partially shutting down the nation's largest employer for the first time in 17 years as the House of Representatives tried to defund the Obamacare health reform's individual mandate, even as Americans prepared to compare health insurance rates - for the first time ever - at online marketplaces, set to rollout Tuesday. 

Yet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010. What’s to be gained from the economic fallout of some 800,000 furloughed employees and possible negative impact to the nation’s creditworthiness that might occur?

Don Young, Alaska’s at-large representative in the House, said brinksmanship was critical to the role Congress plays in the federal government. “It’s the way a lot of legislation is done, or not done,” he said Monday.

In anticipation of the shutdown, contingency plans were devised in recent days, outlining who must work and who isn’t absolutely vital to government services that are classified as “non-essential” by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan advisory counsel to Congress.

At work in Alaska on Tuesday: national security, public safety, postal service and IRS employees. Administrators and IT webstaff for public programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Who won’t be at work: those tasked with enforcing laws that protect the public from business activity that could be harmful. FAA regulators and weather reporters who work within Alaska’s vital commercial aviation sector will be home. So too Forest Service mechanics who service government vehicles and pilots who patrol national parks and rangers who enforce rules across federal landholdings.

In fact, only 64 of the National Park Service’s 757 civil servants will work full days on Tuesday.

If the shutdown continues for more than a few days, the agency will go into the long-term shutdown mode, where 40 workers will remain on staff, said spokesperson John Quinley.

“It’s frustrating to be spinning our wheels, and knowing that at some point we’ll be getting back to work,” Quinley said. The shutdown will hurt those workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck the most.

“A long term shut down without pay would be a very serious issue” for some, he said.

The last time the federal government shut down, in 1995, employees were compensated for the time off. Whether they will be this time remains to be seen

Quinley has been down this road before – he was working for the Park Service during the 1995 shutdown, which lasted for three weeks. “I remember that I did paint my living room,” he said of his time off.

The Alaska National Guard said in a press release it will be furloughing 700 federal technicians on Tuesday. Some offices will be closed. Active-duty guardsmen will remain working.

The Federal Aviation Administration will be furloughing 80 workers in Alaska, an Alaska FAA employee said Monday, including aviation safety inspectors. Air traffic controllers will stay on the job, however, and airports will remain open.

While the Alaska U.S. Department of Justice remains open, some civil cases may be delayed. Spokesperson Thomas Funke said that the District Attorneys will be on staff, but his own position will drop to two days a week.

All Federal workers will come in for four hours Tuesday morning to close up shop before heading home for the duration of the shutdown.

Positions classified as “essential” will remain open. That includes the positions involved military and law enforcement, such as the FBI and U.S. military. The U.S. Post Office will likewise remain open.

Other offices will close nearly completely. The Environment Protection Agency plans to shut down nearly all of its operations, according to its contingency plans.

Young also made a prediction on Monday morning that “if we shutdown it will probably be for a long period of time.”

The Washington Post has compiled an article of how the government shutdown will work, along with a comprehensive list of how agencies will be affected.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com