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Federal shutdown means furlough for 20 at DEQ

Oct 15, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The entity is a state agency, but some jobs are funded with federal money.

More than 20 state workers in Fremont County have been furloughed due to a lack of funding tied to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Wyoming placed 233 federally funded employees on furlough beginning Monday -- one week after the U.S. Congress failed to pass a budget for the new fiscal year.

Twenty-two of those employees work for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality office in Lander in the air quality, water quality and solid and hazardous waste divisions. Their positions are funded by both state and federal sources, so during the shutdown they have been working part-time.

"If an employee is 50 percent federal and 50 percent state, in a week their work hours would be reduced to 20 hours ... rather than 40," said Dean Fausset, director of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information.

"The federal-funded portion of their (salary) they'd have to take as vacation leave or leave without pay."

As a result, WDEQ director Todd Parfitt said the Lander office will have to do more prioritizing when it comes to permits, inspections, monitoring and other projects during the shutdown.

Roughly half of the Lander DEQ employees have been furloughed.

"Nobody's happy about it," Parfitt said. "It's going to affect the pace (at which) we can do the work. It'll slow some things down. ... Some things are going to slip."

He noted that the DEQ will maintain the personnel necessary to ensure public health and safety during the shutdown.

"We're trying to balance out schedules to make sure we always have coverage," he said, commending his staff for their cooperation this week. "The employees agency-wide have really reached out to each other to find ways they can support each other."

His agency can only do so much to compensate for the shutdown, however. For example, Parfitt said the WDEQ works closely with the federal Environmental Protection Agency on state implementation plans, air quality reviews, aquifer exemption approvals and more -- but the EPA office in Denver basically has been closed since last week.

"That can slow some things down," he said. "There's no one to communicate with."

Moving forward

Fausset said employees with the Wyoming Military Department, Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources and the Wyoming Department of Family Services also were affected by the furlough.

As the government shutdown continues, he said, more people and agencies are likely to feel the effects.

"Every day longer it goes on has the potential of having more ramifications," he said. "More employees could be placed on furlough as agencies run out of their funding. It could have an impact on programs in the state that receive federal funding (and) constituents that receive those services."

Private industries that rely on government workers also could feel a "ripple effect" from the shutdown, he added.

According to the state, Wyoming employs 9,867 workers. Of those, 1,600 positions are funded in whole or in part by federal funds.

The 233 employees affected are paid with funds not available without a federal budget. The number of employees subject to furlough may grow if the federal shutdown continues past Oct. 30.

In a letter to the affected employees, Gov. Matt Mead said he and his staff explored all options to avoid furloughs this week, but they found that the action is required by state and federal law. The furloughed employees are eligible for unemployment insurance.

A website, http://tiny.cc/furloughs, has been established to provide information for affected employees, as well as others who may have questions related to the furloughs required by the federal budget situation.

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