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Here’s how a federal government shutdown could affect Colorado — from federal workers to research to parks
The federal government could shut down at midnight Friday without a spending deal in Congress
WASHINGTON — Colorado braced Friday for the possibility of a government shutdown as lawmakers on Capitol Hill appeared no closer to reaching a deal before a late-Friday night deadline.
The most immediate impact on Colorado — as with the rest of the country — would be the furlough of thousands of federal workers whose jobs are deemed non-essential by the administration.
Excluding the U.S. Department of Defense, there are at least 36,000 civilian federal jobs in Colorado at agencies that range from the Bureau of Land Management to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to one 2016 estimate.
How many of these employees would go without work — or pay — during a shutdown was unclear midday Friday. But fewer than half, or about 800,000, of the roughly 2 million-strong federal workforce was furloughed during the 16-day shutdown of 2013.
That means that while some basic government services will continue — such as mail delivery and national defense — others will languish.
One report that followed the 2013 shutdown noted several consequences of that last standoff.
Tax refunds were delayed, food and safety inspections were postponed, and nationally the Small Business Administration was “unable to process about 700 applications for $140 million in small business loans,” according to the findings by the Office of Management and Budget.
The 2013 shutdown also put on hold 500 applications for loans with the Federal Housing Administration and delayed 200 drill applications at the Bureau of Land Management postponing “energy development on federal lands in North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and other states,” according to the OMB report.
In one piece of good news, a federal agency with strong Colorado ties –the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — is likely to keep most of its staff on the clock.
“The Veterans Health Administration received advance appropriations for Fiscal Year 2018 as part of the 2017 Budget. So in the event of a government shutdown, VHA would continue full operations,” said Curt Cashour, a VA spokesman, in a statement. “In addition, even in the event that there is a shutdown, 95.5 percent of VA employees would come to work, and most aspects of VA’s operations would not be impacted.”
In addition, Cashour added that construction of a new VA hospital in Aurora — a project long plagued by problems — would be spared from shutdown delays as “funding for completion of this project was already authorized and appropriated.”
Aides to U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, said they’re keeping an eye on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory — which has facilities in Golden.
During the last shutdown, federal research came almost to a standstill, with “98 percent of National Science Foundation (NSF), nearly three-quarters of NIH, and two-thirds of CDC employees furloughed,” according to the OMB report.
Ashley Verville, a Perlmutter spokeswoman, said it’s also possible that the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge could close and that there could be “issues with various government contracts in the aerospace community but we don’t have any specifics as of now.”
Much of the uncertainty stems from the fact that the Trump administration has broad discretion to determine how the federal government will operate in a shutdown.
Case in point: The White House is exploring the possibility of keeping open the country’s national parks – as their closure was a flashpoint during the 2013 shutdown.
Active-duty members of the military still would be expected to work during a shutdown, but there’s more leeway to furlough civilian defense workers, of which there’s an estimated 11,000 in Colorado, according to Pentagon estimates.
At the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, about 1,000 civilian employees would be furloughed during a shutdown.
“We value every single member of the USAFA team, but given the limitations imposed by a government shutdown, we will have to make tough decisions,” noted a release sent by the school.
Access to health care at the Air Force Academy would be affected, as would facility and computer maintenance. As for the cadets, “athletic competitions and airmanship programs will be suspended,” school officials confirmed.Content originally published by The Denver Post on January 19, 2018.