Visitor reaction to Fort McHenry being closed by the federal government shutdown. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun video)
With President Trump vowing not to sign any appropriations bills unless they include $5 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico, the federal government is in the midst of a partial shutdown.
While about 75 percent of the government is funded by previously signed bills, some agencies are affected by a partial shutdown, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development and the Interior, as well as NASA, the Internal Revenue Service and the Food and Drug Administration.
But even in those departments, employees whose work is considered essential — such as law enforcement and other public safety personnel — will stay on the job without pay, although generally Congress approves back pay after a shutdown occurs.
The effect of all this will be a patchwork — some people won’t notice any change, others will find no one answering the phone when they call, or offices or attractions shuttered. Here are some answers to questions you might have.
I’m traveling for Christmas. Will there be anyone at the airport security checkpoints? Or the air traffic control tower? What about Amtrak?
You and your luggage will still be screened: Transportation Service Administration agents are considered essential and will be on the job.
Same for air traffic controllers.
And Amtrak trains will continue to run.
I just put some holiday gifts in the mail — will they be delivered?
As the U.S. Postal Service tweeted in January when the government shutdown, “operations will not be interrupted… Because we are an independent entity that is funded through the sale of our products and services, and not by tax dollars, USPS will not be impacted.”
The birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner is part of the National Park Service, most of whose employees will be furloughed. As a result, there will be no visitors services — such as restrooms, trash removal and educational programs — at their sites.
When the government shut down for several days in January, Fort McHenry locked its gates.
Same with the zoo in Washington, although its popular Zoolights display will be closed Christmas and New Year’s eves. The museums and the zoo will re-evaluate after Jan. 1 if the shutdown occurs. But attention, panda peepers: The zoo’s website notes none of its live animal cams will broadcast because they require federal resources. Despite some people’s need to check in repeatedly on Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and their 3-year-old, Bei Bei, the zoo said cam staff “are deemed non-essential.”
Also, note: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore will be open. Check its schedule at marylandzoo.org.
Will I still get my Social Security check?
Yes, those funds do not come from the appropriations process, so they are unaffected by a shutdown.
With the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration affected, will safety be compromised?
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The FDA says it will continue “vital activities” although routine inspections of plants would halt.
The USDA said it will continue meat and poultry inspections.
I’m going to trial in federal court — do I catch a break?
Probably not. The federal judiciary has funds that it can use to stay open for several weeks. And neither will President Trump get a break from the investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. His funding is not affected by the shutdown.
One last Christmas question: Will NORAD still track Santa Claus’ path on the night before?
Yes. The North American Aerospace Defense Command tweeted Friday that it “will continue with its 63-year tradition. Military personnel who conduct NORAD Tracks Santa are supported by approximately 1,500 volunteers who make the program possible each and every year.”