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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

October 1, 2013 at 1:17 PM

Shutdown could send 10,000 civilian employees at JBLM home without pay

As many as 10,000 civilian employees at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will have their lives thrown into limbo with the  shutdown of the federal government today.

Joe Piek, director of communications at JBLM, said his office of nine is working with a skeleton crew of three, including the harried editor of the base newspaper “trying to keep civilians and their families advised of what’s happening.”

As of this morning, Piek said, all non-essential civilian employees are being sent home without pay, with no guarantee of when they’ll be back to work or whether they’ll collect the lost money retroactively.

Piek did not have a specific number but said there are roughly 16,000 civilians employees on the base and up to 10,000 of those are “susceptible” to the shutdown. The others are essential or contract employees.

Starting yesterday, he said, the directors of every office on the base were “told to look at their mission and what their absolute essential requirements were.”

Some offices have shut down entirely. Others, like his, remain open with skeleton staffs “focusing on the life, health and safety” of the soldiers and workers and ensure that military training and deployments are not interrupted.

“This is not like the furloughs” associated with the sequester earlier this year, Piek said. “Those were one day a week, so we could keep open and doing our jobs. This is stop working, shut down and go home.”

Army Col. David Johnson, the head of I Corps public affairs at JBLM, said all military personnel are on the job and working. Regardless, he said, JBLM will be affected.

“We rely on our Department of Defense civilians for a lot of stuff,” Johnson said. “It is going to affect this installation.”

He’s the public information officer for all things in uniform and says his people are working, because they’ve been funded.

Like the military, the federal judiciary will stay open — for the time being.  The U.S. Courts, through a variety of fees and other cost-saving measures, have funds to operate as usual for 10 business days, through Oct. 15.

“We will provide additional information if a shutdown continues beyond October 16, 2013.  All court business will continue as scheduled, unless otherwise advised,” according to a posting on the website for U.S. District Courts in Western Washington.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Defender’s offices will remains open, but not without sacrifices.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said her office has focused on the most pressing issues and cases — priorities that she said will change from day to day.

The real toll has been on the support staff, some of whom have been sent home until the shutdown ends.

“We have to focus on the work that protects public safety, life and property,” she said.

According to a post on the Department of Justice web site, criminal cases “will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

Civil litigation “will be curtailed or postponed to the extent this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property,” the DOJ posting says.

Here is how the shutdown is affecting other federal operations:

— The park grounds at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard will be closed, starting at 4 p.m. today. Cyclists and walkers won’t have access to or through the park until until funding is restored.

Vessel navigation will remain available through the locks, but reduced staffing could cause longer locking times.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is closing its campgrounds and day-use parks nationwide.

— Department of Social and Health Services clients will continue to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Basic Food benefits through the end of October. Medicare, Medicaid and child-support payments are not affected by a federal government shutdown at this time. All DSHS offices remain open at this time.

— Amtrak announced on its web site that it would continue normal operation of its national intercity and passenger rail network.

— Border checkpoints seemed to be operating at or near normal. At 11 a.m. today, traffic entering the United States  at Blaine was backed up 30 minutes for I-5 alongside Peace Arch Park, and 20 minutes for Highway 543, the Pacific Crossing. There were no delays to enter the U.S. at Sumas, according to a British Columbia website. A  Border Patrol spokesman in Seattle was off duty Tuesday due to the furlough.

— The Washington Employment Security Department, whose funding is 90 percent federal,  said its WorkSource centers and most of the employment services would remain available beyond next Monday. “We’ve decided to use our limited state funds to continue processing unemployment claims for the time being,” a post on the department web site said. “We will have to revisit this decision if the shutdown lasts more than a few weeks.”

— The federal Passport Agency (including the Seattle office) is processing applications. The agency is supported by user fees – what you pay to get a U.S. passport – so can keep going despite the federal-budget shutdown.

The Seattle Passport Agency, in downtown Seattle, remains open, by appointment, for travelers who need a passport urgently.

For information on National Parks and other federal recreational properties, please visit Northwest Traveler.




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