The impact of the federal government shutdown Tuesday is likely to have an impact well beyond the boundaries of Aberdeen Proving Ground and the 23,000 civilians, contractors and uniformed military who work at the military installation.
Not only is APG Harford County's largest employment center, but the closure of federal offices and agencies in the wake of a nasty political fight in Washington, would directly and indirectly affect thousands of other Harford County area residents.
A number of activities at APG are still functioning, regardless of the impasse between Congress and President Obama over the federal budget, local and federal officials said; however, the impact to the local economy if the stalemate continues is problematic.
APG spokesman Kelly Luster said some of the roughly 90 organizations on post are exempt from the potential shutdown because they have other funding sources besides tax dollars. In addition, specific missions related to "life, health and safety" could be exempt, he said.
"It is unlikely the installation would shut down completely," Luster said via e-mail Monday. "APG plays an integral part in ensuring our service members, who stand in harm's way, continue to be properly equipped and ready. Additionally, the safety and security of our employees and their families is paramount."
He said the post has been working to keep its employees informed about the latest news on the federal stand-off.
"As leadership receives information related to the potential shutdown, we pass it along to our employees through every means possible," he said. "We hope for the best in that our representatives in Congress resolve the situation, but are prepared for the worst case in that the shutdown cannot be avoided."
"With an installation of this size and the number of organizations and employees, it's difficult to identify who is doing what to prepare for a potential shutdown," Luster continued. "However, we are doing the most important thing and that is keeping our workforce informed. As I stated previously, some organizations and missions will be exempt from a shutdown."
The scores of defense contractors with offices in Harford are more likely to feel any impact from a shutdown later on, Jim Richardson, the county's economic development director, said Monday.
"More important is the uncertainty and the amount of dysfunction in D.C.," Richardson said. "There may be some passing effects [to contractors] but I think it's too early to tell. It depends how long this goes."
Mood 'really low'
Nikki Macomber, 40, of Aberdeen, a federal contract employee at APG is not working during the government shutdown. A data collector for the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center for nearly 13 years, she said she is prepared for the worst.
"The mood here is really low and it has been for quite some time," Macomber said Monday. "First there was the furlough, then layoffs and now with the pending government shutdown people are really on edge here."
Macomber said most of the government personnel who work for the Aberdeen Test Center are eligible for retroactive pay once the gridlock in Congress has been resolved. But as a contractor, she is being forced to rely on her personal leave.
"The main things we all feel here is frustration," Macomber said. "The federal government isn't doing their job, but they are still getting paid. If I wasn't doing my job, they would let me go."
Battelle, a science and technology company with about 150 employees at Aberdeen's Higher Education and Technology Center and 36 working on post, planned to shuffle around employees who couldn't go to their government offices Tuesday.
"We are like everybody else. We have been monitoring the situation and developing contingency plans," company spokeswoman Katy Delaney said. "We are telling people, when you leave today, just take your lap top and be ready to work from a different location."
About 7,000 people work directly for government contractors in the county, Richardson said, noting that the number never reached the 18,000 projected as a result of the previous decade's BRAC realignment that favored APG.
"It's been pretty stable because while companies have lost contracts, we have had other companies come in, so basically we have been playing a bit of musical chairs," he said. "I just hope that we get it all worked out on the federal level."
Long term woes