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Published: Tuesday, 10/1/2013

D.C. visitors, workers brace for closings

Public safety employees, presidential appointees only ones to be on job

BY TRACIE MAURIELLO
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

WASHINGTON — Warren Shaub was supposed to take his sons to the National Museum of Natural History to look at dinosaur bones today.

Instead, they’ll go to the U.S. Capitol to protest the Washington gridlock that may ruin the Kutztown, Pa., family’s vacation plans.

A partisan fight over implementation of the Affordable Care Act may force a government shutdown that could cause Smithsonian museums, national parks, and numerous federal offices to close or curtail services. Also facing a shutdown would be the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, according to Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.).

“This was supposed to be an educational trip, and we’ll get education in there one way or another,” said Mr. Shaub, adding that the shutdown would be a civics lesson for his sons, Tiberius, 12, and Harrison, 8.

“There’s so much to do here, and we’re going to miss out on it,” Mr. Shaub said. The family tried to make the best of it Monday while museums were open.

The family’s first stop was the National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian’s most popular museum, where they examined airplane engines and peeked inside the cockpit of World War II aircraft.

Tour guides, security guards, and gift-shop employees continued their work, pausing occasionally to ask each other when they would know if the shutdown would occur.

Most federal employees were expected to report today just long enough to shut down their programs, secure their buildings, and change their voice-mail messages. That was expected to take no more than three or four hours, according to government directives issued by several agency heads.

Public safety employees and presidential appointees still would work. Many federal workers would not.

The Energy Department, for example, determined that only 1,113 of its 14,000 employees are necessary “to protect life and property” and should work during a shutdown.

Directives from some agencies warned employees that the Antideficiency Act makes it a federal crime to perform nonessential work, even for no pay, during a shutdown. Employees in some agencies were told they should not access their work email accounts during a furlough.

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is disabling its email server and employee cell phones during the shutdown.

Some federal offices, including those under the Agriculture Department, are being told to take down their Web sites. “Information on USDA programs will not be available to the public,” according to a written contingency plan.

The National Park Service will turn away day visitors and will give campers inside two days to leave.

The Federal Aviation Administration expects to furlough a third of its 46,000 employees, but air traffic control services and safety inspections will not be affected, according to the agency’s contingency plan. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration will stop audits, facilities planning, routine background investigations of personnel, employee drug testing, financial reporting, and more.

The Army Corps of Engineers will close recreation areas, stop processing regulatory permits, and stop maintaining locks and dams.

Mr. Shaub said none of that is necessary.

He blames House Republicans for tying overall government funding to efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“They’re like schoolyard bullies. Holding all that up over Obamacare is crazy,” he said. “They’re blocking everyone else, but they’re not going anywhere, either.”

Mr. Shaub said he’s a fan of the Affordable Care Act, but that he would rather pay the penalty — up to $95 a year or 1 percent of salary — than sign up.

Mr. Shaub, a self-employed auto mechanic, said he can’t afford health insurance and he’s too proud to take a government subsidy to pay for it.

“I don’t need it,” he said. “The last time I cut myself I stitched it myself,” he said.

His boys are covered under their mother’s health insurance.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Tracie Mauriello at: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292, or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.



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