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Alaska holiday flights, mail and cabin stays should continue through government shutdown

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: December 22, 2018
  • Published December 21, 2018

The entrance to the Anchorage's Campbell Creek Science Center and the BLM offices were closed due to the government shutdown Jan. 22, 2018. (ADN archive)

Last-minute Christmas presents will be delivered, and Alaskans can keep their holiday cabin getaways on the calendar, but thousands of federal employees may need to keep a close eye on their bank accounts after the federal government partially shut down at midnight Friday.

By Saturday afternoon, there was no end in sight for the impasse, with Congress deadlocked in a dispute over $5 billion for a Mexican border wall after President Donald Trump said he would “be proud to shut down the government” over the issue. The shutdown was expected to continue through at least Thursday.

Funding for nine federal agencies expired Saturday. Among those are the departments of Justice, Transportation, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, Interior and Agriculture.

Across the country and here in Alaska, employees who are deemed “essential” in those agencies will stay on the job, though most will be unpaid. Everyone else will be sent home, unpaid, until the shutdown ends, according to instructions issued by the federal Office of Personnel Management. Following previous shutdowns, Congress has retroactively paid employees for their furlough days.

Any federal employees already on Christmas vacation will have that vacation canceled for as long as the shutdown lasts, and if the shutdown extends through Christmas, anyone furloughed during the holiday won’t get holiday pay unless Congress acts to pay it after the fact, OPM’s instructions state.

According to the latest available estimates by the Alaska Department of Labor, approximately 14,500 — about 5 percent — of Alaska’s 312,800 workers are employed by the federal government. Dan Robinson, head of the department’s research and analysis division in Juneau, said that’s the figure when uniformed members of the military are excluded.

Robinson said there’s no quick, definitive data of how many Alaskans are employed by the nine agencies affected by the shutdown, but the Interior Department is the largest federal employer in Alaska after the Department of Defense. No. 3 is the Department of Agriculture, which includes the U.S. Forest Service.

According to the Interior Department’s plans for a shutdown (created at the start of this year), parks and open-air facilities will remain open, but things that require regular staff maintenance or operations, such as running-water bathrooms and visitor centers, will be locked up.

“For example, this means that roads that have already been open will remain open (think snow removal) and vault toilets (wilderness type restrooms) will remain open,” wrote Faith C. Vander Voort, deputy press secretary for the Interior Department, in an email.

The Forest Service has a similar plan. Cabin rentals will continue at recreation.gov, according to the Forest Service’s plan, and anyone who has a remote cabin rental during the shutdown should not be affected. Most maintenance will end, so any broken stove or heater likely will stay broken until the shutdown ends.

The U.S. Postal Service is independently funded, and as it said in January during the last government shutdown, is not affected.

While the Department of Transportation — and thus the Federal Aviation Administration — are affected by the shutdown, more than three-fifths of the department’s employees will remain at work, including air traffic controllers, according to a plan provided by the department. Most airports in Alaska are state-operated.

The Transportation Security Administration is under the Department of Homeland Security, and airport screeners will stay on duty — albeit unpaid — during the shutdown.

The same holds true for weather forecasters at the National Weather Service, a branch of the Department of Commerce. Some forecasters will stay on the job without pay, and forecasts will continue.

With the Department of Justice subject to the shutdown, U.S. Attorney’s office spokeswoman Chloe Martin wrote by email that work will continue as necessary to “maintain the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

That means most civil litigation will be postponed while criminal work continues.

Alaska’s three-person congressional delegation remained in Washington, D.C., in the week preceding the shutdown. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did not voice any objections to the shutdown-averting Wednesday vote that was rejected by the House.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was among the votes in favor of Thursday’s wall-funding, shutdown-averting resolution that the Senate has thus far rejected.

“Sen. Sullivan stayed here and is committed to working on this,” said Matt Shuckerow, Sullivan’s press secretary.

Over the weekend, Alaska’s senators decried the shutdown on social media, and expressed hope that negotiations would lead to a resolution soon.

This partial government shutdown is disappointing, given the fact that we had made significant progress in passing a...

Posted by Senator Dan Sullivan on Saturday, December 22, 2018

“As to the disagreement over border security — $5 billion for securing our border is a reasonable request, especially given the fact that the Democratic Leader of the Senate offered $25 billion for border security funding during negotiations with President Trump earlier this year,” Sullivan said Saturday.

“Funding the government is a fundamental part of our responsibility to govern. We all should commit to end this partial shutdown as soon as possible,” Murkowski said Friday.

I’m disappointed we could not reach an agreement tonight. Funding the government is a fundamental part of our...

Posted by Lisa Murkowski on Friday, December 21, 2018

Karina Borger, spokeswoman for Murkowski, said that while Alaska’s senior senator doesn’t like short-term funding resolutions, “she’s absolutely not a fan of shutting down the government.”

Alex DeMarban contributed reporting.

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