Workers Brace For Possible Partial Shutdown
Before 800,000 ``nonessential″ federal employees could be sent home today in a government shutdown, some had essential tasks to perform _ locking doors, turning away applicants, redirecting tourists.
When the federal passport office in New York’s Rockefeller Center didn’t open this morning, several dozen people waiting outside sputtered, muttered, swore and wailed.
``Ohhhhhhh! I’d like to strangle that man,″ Alana Rakien said after office manager Bill Collins refused to answer any more questions. Rakien said she bought tickets for an overseas trip for a family emergency and needed a passport for her 2-year-old daughter.
Visitors to national parks faced a confusing situation because many were only partly closed.
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spokesman Bob Miller said many roads were closed for lack of crews to plow snow, but backcountry trails and some rest rooms were open.
Larry Steeler, deputy superintendent of Statue of Liberty national monument and Ellis Island, was ready to shut down when he got a call from a regional National Park Service official telling him to open _ for the time being.
When a Greyhound bus full of visitors pulled into Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, Neb., they were not turned away, superintendent Constantine Dillon said.
At the Wright Brothers memorial at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., visitors could park outside the gate and walk in, a spokesman said.
But the park service closed numerous sites around the country commemorating former presidents and other famous people, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site in Atlanta.
Many federal employees showed up for work this morning with dread, concerned about their bills more than the government’s.
``It is really unsettling. It is out of our control,″ said Jean Flaggs, an equal employment opportunity officer who works near Baltimore.
``This isn’t a game, it’s our life,″ said Jim MacConduibh, a tour guide at Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard. ``I don’t know what they’re thinking.″
``As an optimist, I’m hoping these fellows back in Washington will finally wake up to the fact that, my God, they’re playing with people’s safety, with their hopes and their futures,″ said Tom Magin, a furloughed Labor Department inspector in Fargo, N.D.
While 60 percent of the 2.1 million civilians in the federal work force are deemed essential and stayed on the job, the rest were caught in the budget impasse. They included White House tour guides, IRS and Social Security hot line staffers, even garbage collectors in the nation’s capital.
Air traffic controllers, prison guards and others with crucial jobs kept working, as did military personnel and the Postal Service.
Some clerks and administrative personnel at veterans hospitals were affected, but not doctors or nurses, said B.J. Searles, compensation and pension supervisor at Seattle’s veterans hospital.
``The veteran patient would not even know there’s been a furlough,″ Searles said.
Shutdowns occur when Congress and the president can’t agree on legislation to extend the spending authority of government agencies. The last time budget wrangling caused a federal shutdown, in 1990, it cost the government almost $3.4 million in lost work and revenue.
``It’s ridiculous and very childish,″ said Janice Morse of Lake Worth, Fla., who was angry that the shutdown might spoil her four-day visit to Washington, D.C.
``I’m trying to see all I can today,″ said Morse, who had raced through three Smithsonian museums by midday Monday.
Anxious would-be travelers packed passport offices Monday.
``I’ve planned on spending the whole day here,″ said Dianna Castro as she waited in a passport-application line that stretched outside and around a corner in downtown Los Angeles.
Robert Schmidt, who needed a passport for his honeymoon, faced delays of up to three hours at the passport office in San Francisco.
``There’s a certain desperation that you can feel in the air,″ he said.