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County offices close as federal shutdown starts

County offices close as federal shutdown starts

Oct 1, 2013 - From staff reports

Federal workers in Fremont County were unable to talk about local effects of the government shutdown that went into effect Tuesday after the U.S. Congress failed to pass a budget for the new fiscal year.

The employees either were not at work, or they had been instructed not to answer questions about the shutdown. Instead, they directed the media to call spokespeople or representatives in Washington, D.C.


Sarah Beckwith, a public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management in the Wind River Basin, issued an e-mail Tuesday canceling the National Public Lands Day project that had been scheduled for Saturday in Lander.

"(The event) is cancelled unless the government re-opens before then," she wrote.

In the outgoing message on her answering machine Tuesday, Beckwith said she was out of the office due to the federal government shutdown.

According to the Department of the Interior, essentially all activities of the BLM were halted when Congress failed to enact appropriations, or a continuing resolution, for fiscal year 2014.

"Without appropriated funds, there is no authority to incur obligations, including obligations for salaries," a BLM contingency plan states.

Law enforcement, emergency response and firefighting functions still are ongoing through the agency, but the majority of BLM employees were furloughed beginning Tuesday afternoon.

Staff reportedly spent up to four hours completing shutdown activities Tuesday morning. Visitor centers and facilities on public lands were closed, and contracted operations like trash collection and toilet cleaning were suspended.

"All facilities will be operationally shut down and posted accordingly, with gates locked, restrooms locked and water systems shut down," according to the BLM contingency plan. "Occupied sites would be given 48 hours to vacate."

New permit applications, modifications and renewals will not be received or processed during the shutdown.

The minimum number of employees needed to humanely care for horses through the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program will continue working, as will a limited number of employees who patrol oil and gas fields to make sure theft of oil or condensate is not occurring.

Other agencies

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement also is related to energy production. The agency ensures coal mine surface activities are operated in a manner that protects citizens and the environment during mining. It also assures that land is restored to beneficial use following mining and addresses the effects of past mining by pursuing the reclamation of abandoned coal mines.

During the shutdown, the number of employees working for the OSM nationwide will fall from 470 to eight.

Employees answered phones at the National Weather Service office in Riverton, but they had been told not to speak about the government shutdown. Federal spokespeople also were unavailable for comment due to the shutdown.

"I will be unable to respond until funding has been appropriated and the shutdown ends," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration communications director Ciaran Clayton wrote in an e-mail. "I sincerely regret this inconvenience."

The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the nation's reservoirs, will retain the minimum number of employees to conduct business.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will take almost two days to shut down its operations, retaining animal caretakers who must feed and care for live animals and protect lab materials that may spoil.

The website for the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not available Tuesday "due to the lapse in federal government funding."

The Shoshone National Forest has closed its three district offices, its supervisor's office and all campgrounds and facilities at picnic areas until further notice.

Reservation agencies

Because school operations are "forward-funded," the Bureau of Indian Education has the money needed to continue operating normally through June 30. However, the BIE has been transformed during the shutdown to a contingency organization, which is responsible for continuing instructional and related educational services with BIE-funded schools.

The Wind River Agency office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Fort Washakie has furloughed almost all of its employees, acting superintendent Ray Nation said Tuesday.

"Our office is basically closed," he said. "But our law enforcement is still up and running."

Nation said only three of his employees deemed "essential" staff members will continue to run services at the office.

According to the BIA website, that agency will retain the minimum employees required to provide vital services, exercise civil authority and maintain the safety of its employees and the general public. Services will include law enforcement, child protection, wild land fire management, irrigation and dam safety.

Northern Arapaho tribal liaison Gary Collins called the shutdown "unnecessary."

"The leaders in Washington need to come to a conclusion," he said Tuesday. "The people who are affected the most are the ones who lose the most --in other words, the poor."

He said the shutdown will only place an additional strain on the American Indian population of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

For more information about available government services, visit usa.gov.

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