The third shutdown in less than a year could mean a tough holiday season for thousands of federal workers in Georgia and sow uncertainty for countless more who rely on government services.
The stalemate between Congress and President Donald Trump over border security funding is expected to affect roughly one-quarter of the federal government, including multiple agencies with a Georgia footprint, several national parks and and some workers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The exact impact on the state was unclear headed into the weekend, but thousands of federal employees were expected to be furloughed. Others are likely work without pay based on past shutdown procedures.
The state is home to about 4 percent of the federal workforce, more than or 71,000 civilian employees, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Georgia’s nine military bases will largely be spared from the uncertainty, as well as the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s because Congress previously passed spending bills for the Pentagon and Department of Health and Human Services.
Key services such as Social Security checks, Medicare reimbursements and food stamps will continue to flow under a shutdown. Same for the U.S. Postal Service, which is mostly self-funded. But other agencies were bracing for limited staffing, shuttered offices and possible delays in services.
One of the largest impacts is likely to be on morale.
An estimated 800,000 federal workers nationwide won’t be paid under a federal funding lapse, and slightly more than half will be required to show up to work during a shutdown. Following previous funding lapses, Congress voted to pay those employees, but that money was not guaranteed.
“This is the time of year when people should be celebrating and relaxing, instead of being stressed because they don’t know if they are going to get furloughed or not get paid,” said Ceretta Smith, a U.S. Army veteran and president of the Local 2017 chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 4,600 workers at Fort Gordon. “They are on pins and needles.”
The on-the-ground effect of the shutdown will likely vary throughout the state.
Most federal law enforcement officials, including FBI agents, customs agents and Bureau of Prisons correctional officers, will continue to work — but without pay. The same would go for the nation’s 53,000 Transportation Security Administration agents and thousands of air traffic controllers.
At the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center campus near Brunswick, basic training for new students will be suspended under a shutdown. Personnel will be told to remain onsite during a short funding lapse, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s contingency plans, but would eventually be sent back to their permanent duty stations under an extended shutdown.
Federal courts can keep running under funding lapses if they have revenue stored away from their fines and fees.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Atlanta would not comment Friday on what a shutdown would mean for its staff or any of its ongoing investigations, including its City Hall probe.
The funding lapse could harm farmers, who will not be able to access the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s farm service centers during a shutdown. Many are also hoping for emergency funding from Congress following Hurricane Michael. Food inspections, meanwhile, will continue.
There could also be consequences for state government workers, particularly if the shutdown stretches for a long period of time. Some state employees are paid partly with federal money, and about one-third of state government spending comes from the federal government, the AJC previously reported.
Perhaps one of the most visible local impacts of the shutdown could be on national parks, since Congress could not agree on funding for the Department of Interior.
Both Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta were closed during the February government shutdown.
And even among parks that remained accessible during previous funding lapses, there were no visitor services available such as full-service restrooms and gift shops.
Charles Sellars, acting superintendent of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, said Friday the site would be closed if the government shut down.
“Anything that we would have scheduled beyond midnight would be cancelled,” he said. That includes walking tours the park holds on weekends.
Capitol Hill politics
As federal workers fretted on Friday, the U.S. Capitol was locked in a stalemate as party leaders scrambled unsuccessfully to stave off a shutdown.
Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue spent part of the morning at the White House, where he urged President Donald Trump to stand firm against Senate Democrats, who have vowed to oppose spending legislation that includes any money for a wall on the southern border.
“This is about protecting America, stopping illegal drugs, stopping human trafficking and protecting the sovereignty of the country,” the Republican later told reporters. “My encouragement was this is the time to do it.”
Perdue later voted to kick off debate on a seven-week funding agreement that included $5 billion in wall funding and about $8 billion for natural disaster relief, a top priority for Georgia lawmakers after Hurricane Michael. But after party leaders and White House officials traded offers throughout the day, the sides could not reach an agreement and disbanded for the day.
One of the senators missing from the Friday action was Johnny Isakson.
The Georgia Republican’s office said he had cataract surgery on Thursday and was forced to miss Friday’s vote for a follow-up appointment.
Smith, the Fort Gordon union leader, said she hoped elected officials were considering local federal workers as they participated in government spending negotiations. Fort Gordon is not expected to be directly impacted by a shutdown, but Smith said she was worried about her colleagues from other departments.
“Federal employees are committed to serving.,” she said. “People are going to come to work and do the right thing. The unfortunate part is they may not get paid for it.”
Staff writers Ernie Suggs, Joshua Sharpe, Ben Brasch, Raisa Habersham and Amanda C. Coyne contributed to this article.
FEDERAL FOOTPRINT IN GEORGIA
- Number of federal civilian workers in Georgia as of Sept. 2017: 71,440
- Number of active duty military as of May 2016: 61,288
The state’s largest civilian employers:
- Department of the Air Force: 14,117Department of the Army: 11,322
- Department of Veterans Affairs: 10,964
- Department of Health and Human Services: 9,217
- Department of the Navy: 4,068
Sources: Governing Magazine, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Defense Manpower Data Center
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.