By Matthew Hay Brown, Kevin Rector and Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
9:34 PM EDT, October 1, 2013
Workers at Fort McHenry emerged shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday to post the sign: "Closed until further notice. No Entry. No trespassing."
Over the next hour, joggers and cyclists pulled up to the gate, stopped, read the notice and turned around. Finally, veteran park ranger Laurie Coughlan followed them out, to begin her indefinite furlough.
"Most of us can deal with a day," said the Parkville woman, a 39-year veteran of the National Park Service. "Some people really do live paycheck to paycheck, and they need every penny."
Effects of the partial federal government shutdown Tuesday were felt immediately and broadly in Maryland, home to 300,000 federal workers, more government contractors and several agencies.
Services were suspended, offices closed and nonessential workers sent home without pay after Congress failed to agree on a measure to continue funding the government.
Gov. Martin O'Malley warned the shutdown would "needlessly hurt hardworking Maryland moms and dads who are federal employees; harm small and large businesses across Maryland — including health, aerospace and defense companies; and threaten our state's budget in a time of economic recovery."
The governor's office estimated the shutdown would cost the Maryland economy nearly $15 million per day in business and $5 million per day in tax revenue.
Marylanders expressed frustration with the inability of lawmakers to settle their differences, but also optimism that the shutdown would be over soon. So far, Republicans have insisted that any spending bill include language to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Democrats say they will not support such language.
"I'm hopeful that it'll be resolved before it becomes an issue," said Department of Energy policy adviser Joel Blaine, 29, who was waiting at Penn Station on Tuesday morning for a train to his job in Washington. "But I don't know if I'm putting my hope in the wrong place, because it doesn't seem like much is happening with Congress."
The Mount Vernon resident said his managers have told him a small amount of funding remains to continue operating for the time being. But he was unsure how long it would last or whether he should prepare to be furloughed soon.
The MARC system announced changes to train schedules to provide earlier returns from Washington to Baltimore for those employees who were sent home.
Allison Gauhautz, a budget analyst at the Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn, reported to her early-bird shift at 6 a.m. She was given four hours to handle the chores of shutting down — changing her email notification, for example, and recording a new voice mail greeting.
The 33-year-old Perry Hall woman said she had no guess how long the shutdown will last. She called the uncertainty "nerve-racking."
"For myself, I hope it's only days," she said. "I have to pay my mortgage. I have to make my car payment. If I don't have a paycheck every month, I have no options."
Gauhautz, who has worked at the agency for five years, asked whether members of Congress — who are not furloughed — have any incentive to end the shutdown.
"If they're still getting that paycheck every week or two weeks, what do they care?" she said.
In Washington, dozens of furloughed employees held signs showing pictures of a tearful Republican House Speaker John Boehner as they rallied outside the Capitol. The event was organized by Democratic lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia and unions that represent the workers.
George Schlaffer, a revenue agent for the Internal Revenue Service in Baltimore and president of Chapter 62 of the National Treasury Employees Union, said the furlough would be a hardship for his family. The Dundalk man, a 40-year veteran of the IRS, is putting two daughters through college.
"Yes, we're paycheck-to-paycheck because I'm trying to help each of my daughters to cover as much of the freight as they can so they don't have to have student loans at 7 and 8 percent," said Schlaffer, 65. He said he could probably hold his family's finances together for a few months.
"We can hang on," he said. "But it's a hardship."
Tina Cappetta, superintendent of Fort McHenry National Monument and Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, said workers had prepared for a shutdown.
"We spent much of [Monday] calling school groups that might have reservations, contacting anyone who might have meetings scheduled," Cappetta said. She said 15 school groups were scheduled to visit Fort McHenry this week, and about 300 cyclists and joggers enter the park daily.
Cyclist Jerry Francis said riding through the park is part of his morning routine. The Baltimore man appeared stunned Tuesday when he saw the "closed" sign.
"I just didn't think about it," Francis said. "That's our park, and it's just there. It didn't dawn on me that it's part of the government."
Coughlan, the Fort McHenry ranger, was working at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania during the last federal government shutdown, in 1995-1996.
"For the first day or two when these things happen, you're not feeling the financial crisis yet," she said. "Everyone has things they've been meaning to do around their house. But after a day or two, you start feeling that there's stuff you should be doing, and then you start feeling anxious about the finances."
Pat Ranson, a retired corrections officer and former Marine, drove to the Social Security field office in Owings Mills to get a replacement Social Security card, only to be turned away.
The Owings Mills man said the experience was an inconvenience, but the shutdown is unacceptable.
"As far as I am concerned, you have people in Congress who don't like the president, don't like the Democratic Party and really don't like anything the president stands for," he said. "It's not good, because we're throwing everyone under the bus, whether we're Democrat or Republican, independent, et cetera."
DeEster McLean was able to keep her appointment Tuesday to apply for disability benefits. But the Randallstown woman said the impact of the shutdown on government workers is "sick."
"The ones who are responsible, they are the ones who should be put on furlough," she said.
In Annapolis, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program Office were sent home by 1 p.m., and the state's "Eyes on the Bay" water-quality website, hosted by the EPA, went dark.
Civilian professors and instructors at the Naval Academy also were furloughed; military professors were taking over classes as they were able. The academy grounds remained open to the public, but spokesman Cmdr. John Schofield said visitors should expect "drastic reductions in service."
The Department of Defense ordered the suspension of all service academy sports games. Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said a decision on Saturday's sold-out Navy-Air Force football game, the biggest home game on the schedule this fall, would be made Thursday.
Gladchuk said canceling the game, for which a record 40,000 tickets have been sold, could cost the academy millions of dollars.
Several commuters at Penn Station declined to speak to reporters about the shutdown, citing instructions from their employers. Others opened up about their frustrations.
Michael Arighi, 66, a federal worker's compensation specialist working at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Baltimore, said the shutdown has "thrown all of our plans and contracts into disarray," leaving it unclear whether projects will have sufficient personnel to manage them.
Arighi said he knew of one project that was to begin this week.
"Now it'll take place in the week or two after we get back, whenever that is," he said.
The director of the Baltimore office of the VA said funds to pay disability benefits, pensions, education and vocational rehabilitation programs would continue through late October.
Regional office Director Michael Scheibel said VA medical centers, clinics and health services, which already have been funded through 2014, would remain open.
Federal employees weren't the only workers concerned about their jobs. Ciara Zachary, a senior health research associate for Econometrica in Bethesda, was given the option of staying home as managers determined how the shutdown would affect the company's workload — which consists largely of government contracts.
"They say we're fine for now, but we'll see," the Mount Vernon woman said. "I'm crossing my fingers."
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun