Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky gives a thumbs up Monday as he leaves the Senate floor after reaching an agreement to advance a bill ending the government shutdown that began Saturday morning. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin
Photo: Jacquelyn Martin

Thousands of federal employees furloughed in Georgia during shutdown

The damage had already been done in Georgia before Congress voted Monday to end the three-day federal government shutdown.

Thousands of federal employees across the Peach State were sent home Monday morning without pay before the Senate and and then the House both approved the budget deal, which would fund the government through Feb. 8.

Richard Norris got his furlough notice when he reported for work in the morning at Fort Gordon. A tactical satellite instructor living in Augusta, Norris wondered whether he would be able to pay his bills on time and take a long-planned beach vacation in the spring. Then the Senate took its vote early in the afternoon. The U.S. Army veteran saw it as a glimmer of hope. But Norris is still worried he and other federal employees will be right back in the same place next month.

“What are we going to do on Feb. 8? Do this all over again?” said Norris, vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2017. “Let’s do something more than these Band-Aids. … Because what is going to happen in three weeks? You are going to be calling me back again and I’m going to be: ‘Yep. I got another letter. I’m out again.’ ”

Dwight Rice got the same furlough notice Monday at Fort Gordon, where he works as a telecommunications specialist. Like Norris, the Grovetown resident wants Congress to eliminate the uncertainty he and other federal workers are grappling with and pass a budget, not another short-term spending plan.

“If we sign a continuing resolution in January, the next one is the budget. They have got to do it. One extension is enough,” said Rice, who serves as the executive vice president of the AFGE Local 2017.

At Robins Air Force Base, about 4,000 of the military installation’s roughly 12,600 employees were furloughed Monday.

“Employees reported to work Monday morning to carry out orderly shutdown activities,” Robins spokesman Vance “Geoff” Janes said in an email. “These shutdown activities may include receiving and acknowledging furlough notices, completing any required time and attendance, setting email/voicemail out-of-office notifications, securing files, and other activities necessary to preserve the employee’s work.”

Hundreds of employees at Fort Benning and thousands at Fort Stewart were sent home.

“The majority of our civilian workforce was affected,” Fort Stewart spokesman Christopher Fletcher said. “They all came in for normal report times and filled out official notification that they were being furloughed and then that was documented and they basically went back to their homes.”

Eighteen Georgia Department of Labor staffers were also furloughed Monday. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said most of his agency’s funding comes from the federal government, and that he warned staffers about the impact Friday. Butler said the 18 staffers do statistical reporting for the agency. Among other things, they compile and report unemployment data.

Meanwhile, the shutdown forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cancel training for about 60 officials from Henry County and its various cities. Henry was one of two counties that received a grant to send people to a weeklong integrated emergency management course this week in Emmitsburg, Md. The program helps prepare communities for coordinated attacks.

“We are hoping to get it rescheduled this fiscal year,” Henry County spokeswoman Melissa Robinson said. “That will be up to FEMA and Homeland Security when they want to do that.”

FEMA will reimburse the county for the unused airfare and the prepaid cost for meals, Robinson said, though she did not provide details on those expenses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention furloughed its press officers, so there was no one to let the public know about the current flu epidemic. The agency said it would operate with “minimal support to protect the health and well-being of U.S. citizens here and abroad through a significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations, processing of laboratory samples, and maintaining the agency’s 24/7 emergency operations center.”

Reports from just before the shutdown differed on how much work the CDC would be able to continue on tracking the flu epidemic currently peaking in the U.S. and at its worst in states such as Georgia. The news site Buzzfeed indicated some work would still be done within the CDC to track the spread, but there may be delays compiling the information.

Shanta Dube, an associate professor in the Georgia State University School of Public Health’s epidemiology and biostatistics division, spent 14 years at the CDC. She said the organization’s top-flight employees would do everything they could to continue critical work under the circumstances of the shutdown. “I cannot tell you what the impact of one day shutting down would be because we would need hard data,” Dube said. “But I can tell you the operations and programmatic work that the CDC does with state and local partners does get impacted.”

Other federal agencies were not affected Monday. For example, the FBI’s Atlanta office announced on Twitter that it was still up and running despite the shutdown.

“All our agents and support personnel are excepted from furlough,” the FBI’s Atlanta office tweeted. “We remain focused on protecting the Georgians we serve.”

The U.S. Department of Education supplies about one-tenth of the funding for Georgia public schools, which faced some uncertainty Monday as they waited for Congress to act because it was unclear what would happen to their funding if the shutdown continued into next week. The federal money is funneled through the Georgia Department of Education, which draws it on a weekly basis. The state agency had already drawn down funds for this week’s payouts to schools. No answer was forthcoming from the federal agency’s press office, which greeted callers Monday via voicemail: “We will return to normal operations as soon as possible after the temporary shutdown ends.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Staff writers Ariel Hart, James Salzer, Leon Stafford and Ty Tagami contributed to this article.