Effects of government shutdown not as severe as in the past

The federal government is in a partial shutdown. It’s been going on for five days, but with the weekend and the Christmas holiday, this was the first real work day of hiatus. And, for a number of reasons, the effects of this shutdown are more subtle than in the past. Alaska Public Media Washington correspondent Liz Ruskin spoke with Casey Grove to talk through the impact of the partial shutdown.

GROVE: Liz, why is this shutdown not as far-reaching as past shutdowns?

RUSKIN: It only affects about 25 percent of the government. Because – quick review here – It takes a dozen appropriations bills to fund government. And this year, about half of those bills were passed into law, and half weren’t.

GROVE: So some departments are fully funded.

RUSKIN: Right. Some of the big ones, like the Department of Defense and the VA. Those departments are operating as normal. And then big swaths of the government have separate funding, so mail service is unaffected, social security checks, federal retirement pay – those things are still normal. The Departments that are NOT funded are Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice and Transportation, and a few others.

GROVE: But some people from those departments have to work anyway, right?

RUSKIN: Yes, those deemed essential to life and safety. So most of Coast Guard is working as usual. Air traffic control and TSA are still on duty. And, by the way, I checked with the management of Ted Stevens International Airport. They tell me the airport is operating as normal.

GROVE: And those people, the Coast Guard and TSA agents, are working without pay?

RUSKIN: Right, or they will be. Most federal employees are due to get a paycheck at the end of the month or the beginning of January. That paycheck is supposed to go out as normal. The next one will depend on when this funding lapse ends. But Congress has always paid the backpay.

GROVE: Even to the furloughed employees?

RUSKIN: That’s how it’s been in past shutdowns.

GROVE: Liz, in 2013 there was a problem with the crab fishery, that federal workers weren’t around to issue quota. Is that going to happen again?

RUSKIN: So one casualty of the shutdown has been that a lot of the public affairs people are on furlough, but I checked with fish journalist Laine Welch, producer of Alaska Fish Radio, and she says she finally got a definitive answer and that’s that the federally managed fisheries are A-OK this time, at least in the short term. Cod is supposed to open on January 1 and pollock on January 20. The permits have been issued and Laine says the enforcement is going to take place as usual. That’s the answer she got from the Office of Management and Budget.

GROVE: What about the long term?

RUSKIN: As Laine Welch describes it, it’s possibly significant in the long- and medium-term that fish scientists and the people who do stock surveys aren’t working:

“Those are the foundations of Alaska’s fisheries. No stock surveys, no fishery. Those people are furloughed due to the Trump shutdown. And so there’s some worry that gaps or lacks in data streams could halt the catch allocations that are meted out over the year, or prompt more cautionary catches since the science would be lacking.”

GROVE: So in the short-term the cod and pollock fisheries will go as expected, but science could take a hit and that might affect fisheries later in the year.

RUSKIN: Yep. You got it.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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