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Federal government shutdown would hurt workers, Maryland economy

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A possible government shutdown starting Tuesday would cause federal agencies in Maryland to close or seriously cut back operations, resulting in significant hardship for federal workers, as well as declining economic output and lower tax revenue for the state.

A shutdown is possible because House Republicans have tied government funding in the new fiscal year to delaying or defunding the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

"I was furloughed two days this summer," said Pentagon police officer and Maryland resident Robert Voss. "I can't afford to lose two more weeks of work. I'm a single father. Two weeks is a long time to go without a paycheck."

Daraius Irani, executive director of Towson University's Regional Economic and Studies Institute, said that a shutdown could lead to days or weeks of lost income and productivity from Maryland's roughly 90,000 federal workers and 180,000 federal contractors.

Irani found that depending on how many of those workers are furloughed, the total loss of income per day to families in Maryland would fall between $18 million and $68 million. That is about 3 to 7 percent of Maryland's total daily income.

Irani said that while that number is small, it can add up quickly, like it did in the government's 21-day shutdown from 1995 to 1996.

"Once you go into day 10, it begins to feel like a real number," Irani said. "And for the state, this means that you have another headwind, a manufactured crisis that you're creating that's going to negatively impact Maryland and Virginia and D.C."

Irani added that Maryland will lose between $700,000 and $2.5 million every day in income taxes, and the state's economic output will fall between $24 million and $89 million each day.

"It will adversely affect our economy, national security and our operations of government," Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said this week. "We have a lot of government employees who will be told not to come to work and who will not be paid."

Military installations

Military bases throughout Maryland will continue to operate even if the government shuts down Tuesday. Department of Defense Under Secretary Robert Hale said military members will be instructed to continue to carry out their obligations.

Although military members will still report for duty, supporting activities that do not actively contribute to the "safety of life and preservation of property" will be suspended. Military training exercises, recruitment and routine maintenance tasks may come to a halt if the government shuts down next week.

Maryland courts

A possible shutdown would affect federal courts in Maryland. Charles Hall, a spokesman for the U.S. District Courts in Maryland, said the effects will likely not be felt until mid-October.  

"Our shutdown is going to take a couple of weeks," Hall said. "Unlike some agencies, we have some fee and carry-over money from previous years to keep the lights on and courts running for (about) two weeks into October."

In the wake of a government shutdown, federal agencies and the courts will have to decide what positions are considered essential and non-essential. Those deemed non-essential will be furloughed, which is basically an indefinite, unpaid vacation.

Those deemed essential will be asked to come to work, however, they will not be paid for the duration of the shutdown. Congress would decide whether they are paid after the fact.

When the courts do run out of money, cuts will be made. Hall said decisions about essential and non-essential positions will be made by each court's chief justice.

Other agencies

Another agency that will use carryover funds to continue operating after the Oct. 1 deadline is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, based in Rockville.

Holly Harrington, a spokeswoman, said the agency is not sure exactly how long it will stay open, but it should be able to operate for at least a short period using unspent money from previous years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, based in Silver Spring, will lose about half of its staff in the face of a shutdown. According to a recent Commerce Department document outlining its shutdown plan, roughly 6,600 NOAA employees would stay on the job.

Most of those workers would come from the National Weather Service, which is required to continue functioning because its work can identify "imminent threats to protect life and property." In addition, about 500 employees from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which regulates and enforces laws related to marine wildlife, would also stay on the job.

However, even with those exceptions, approximately 5,400 NOAA employees — about 45 percent of the agency's workforce — would be sent home.

Another Silver Spring-based agency, the Food and Drug Administration, will furlough about 8,000, or 45 percent, of its 14,779-person workforce. With those sorts of cuts, the agency says it "will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities."

Some of those halted activities include routine establishment inspections and monitoring U.S. imports.

The National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, will not be accepting new patients nor will it be taking on new clinical trials, extramural research grants or contracts. Without admitting new patients, NIH will be carrying on with roughly 90 percent of its normal patient load during the shutdown.

NIH will also be keeping employees who protect property related to ongoing medical experiments, maintenance of animals and protection of government-owned property.

According to its contingency plan, "For some of the on-going experiments, a break in the protocol would render the research property (both animate and inanimate) useless and require some of it to be destroyed. "

In total, NIH will keep about 27 percent of its 18,646-person staff.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt will retain 104 of its 3,397 federal employees in the wake of a government shutdown, with only 60 of those employees full time. That will leave the center with a bare bones staff only three percent of its normal size. Goddard will also have 251 employees who are "on-call," meaning they will only come to the center if there is an emergency.

Small effect on the Bay

Government funds also play a role protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and with the EPA expected to lose 94 percent of its employees, according to its 2013 contingency plan, Chesapeake programs are expected to lose some of their workforce.

However, Margaret Enloe, a spokeswoman for the Chesapeake Bay Program, said that water monitoring and restoration programs should not be affected by the shutdown. She said most of the employees are funded by state programs or partnerships, so they will continue to work even if there is a shutdown.

But she added that those employees, many of whom work at the EPA-owned headquarters in Annapolis, will be seriously inconvenienced.

"There is a physical building that is managed by the EPA, and that building will be closed," Enloe said. Because of that, Enloe said, most employees will not be able to work or meet in the building.

Employees will instead work from home, which Enloe said is frustrating but ultimately easy to deal with.

"I'll give you one example," Enloe said. "We have a giant conference room that we use for meetings, and if the government shuts down, we can't use it. But then you go find another place or have a conference call."

Capital News Service's Joshua Axelrod contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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