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Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harford's primary employer, spared from government shutdown

Major federal employers serving Harford County and the surrounding area — Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Perry Point VA Medical Center — have been spared from the ongoing federal government shutdown.

The budgets for the two installations were approved for the current fiscal year.

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But Harford County Executive Barry Glassman expressed frustration this week at Congress and President Donald Trump’s inability to reach a budget agreement for the entire federal government. Glassman noted that the shutdown could affect residents who work for other federal agencies, as well as local and state income tax revenue.

“To me, it’s kind of foolishness,” he said Monday.

Glassman said that shutting down the county government, which operates around the clock providing services such as law enforcement, emergency operations, including 911, and utility repairs, “is not an option.”

The county executive submits a budget, which must be balanced, to the County Council each year, and the council must pass it before the local fiscal year ends June 30. Glassman said the Maryland General Assembly, which he was a member of before being elected county executive in 2014, has the same duty, to pass a balanced budget, under the state constitution.

“It’s just frustrating that the federal government can’t get its act together and pass a budget,” he said.

The partial shutdown started after Congress adjourned for holiday break Saturday, and funding expired for agencies that make up about a quarter of the federal workforce. The major sticking point came over whether Congress would provide $5 billion Trump requested to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director and incoming chief of staff, has said the shutdown could continue into January, when a new Congress with a majority Democrat House of Representatives is sworn in. Trump, a Republican, has sparred with Democratic leaders in Congress throughout his term over funding for the border wall.

Many agencies feel the impact

Federal agencies affected by the shutdown include the Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, State Department, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, Commerce, the Food and Drug Administration, NASA, Transportation and the Treasury Department, according to Politico.

About 400,000 federal workers have been furloughed, and another 400,000 classified as “essential personnel” are working without pay. Those who have had to work during prior shutdowns received back pay authorized by Congress, however.

The Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore has been closed, as it is operated by the National Park Service, part of the Interior Department.

The Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harford County’s largest employer with more than 20,000 soldiers, Department of Defense civilian employees and contractors, remains open and operational.

“The shutdown does not affect the DOD,” Philip Molter, a spokesperson for the Army post, said Monday.

APG closed Monday, in accordance with a presidential executive order allowing all federal employees to take off that day for Christmas Eve, and Tuesday on Christmas, also a federal holiday.

But on Wednesday it was back to normal, he said.

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Molter said the Defense Department’s current annual budget has been fully funded through fiscal year 2019 — the federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30 the following year — which allows APG to operate as normal.

Perry Point VA stays open

Trump signed appropriations bills for defense spending, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs, earlier this year. The approved fiscal 2019 budget for the VA means the Perry Point VA Medical Center in Perryville, as well as other veterans’ medical facilities throughout Maryland, will remain open.

“Hospitals, medial centers, clinics and other VA health administration services are open and fully operational,” Kenya Griffin, program manager for public relations and community outreach for the VA Maryland Health Care System, said Monday.

Outpatient and inpatient services were open Monday, although outpatient services were scheduled to be closed Tuesday in observance of Christmas — inpatient services would still be operating, Griffin said.

She encouraged veterans who want to confirm, change or cancel a medical appointment to call the health care system’s appointment center at 410-605-7333. The center is available from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“We are fully funded through fiscal year 2019,” Griffin said of the VA.

About 5,400 Harford County residents work at Aberdeen Proving Ground as civilian employees, according to Glassman.

The county executive said passing a defense budget, which has not happened in Washington, D.C., for a number of years, has helped APG and the local economy, with an increase in the number of contractors and the use of more office space near the post. He stressed that “we’re still recovering” from years of budget battles and spending sequestration that affected federal defense spending.

Previous shutdown

Harford County and APG had to deal with a partial government shutdown in 2013 after then-President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress could not reach an accord on spending.

Glassman, who was in the state legislature five years ago, said no defense contractor or other business will invest in a community “when they don’t know if the federal government is going to pass a budget or not pass a budget.”

The county executive also expressed concern for families of federal employees who depend on their regular paycheck.

He noted federal shutdowns can affect states’ abilities to collect income tax and project the amount of income tax revenue they can provide to local governments. Harford County budgeted for $226.7 million — 31 percent of its $734.6 million in operating revenue — to come from income tax in the current fiscal year, according to county budget documents.

The counties and the state do catch up on income tax projections once federal shutdowns end, though, Glassman said.

“There is a delay in getting income taxes and things like that into the system,” he said. “There is an economic effect on the state and the counties.”

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