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NM agencies brace for shutdown’s impact

Federal agencies throughout New Mexico said Friday that they were ready for a government shutdown; those preparations now come into play since Congress failed to reach a budget agreement by the midnight deadline.

There are about 29,000 federal employees in New Mexico, according to the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“We anticipate that should a government shutdown and federal employee furlough take effect, we will continue (and are prepared) to run mission-essential functions related to security, airfield operations; command and control, and emergency response,” said Kirtland Air Force Base spokesman Jim Fisher in an email Friday. “Some civilian employees will remain on duty to ensure critical functions continue.”

The Department of Defense issued guidance Thursday in the event of a lapse in appropriations.

Active duty military are expected to continue reporting for duty, sometimes filling in for furloughed civilians.

They won’t be paid unless Congress passes a separate measure allowing their pay to continue.

Certain civilians who perform “excepted” duties, like those necessary for national security, also would be kept on during a shutdown.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said in a memo to employees that furlough notices would be given on the next official workday should a shutdown occur.

“The uncertainty of the current circumstances puts our workforce in a difficult situation and, should a government shutdown occur, it could impose hardships on many employees, as well as the people whom we serve every day,” Shanahan said.

Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories narrowly avoided shutting down in 2013; Sandia was to be closed Oct. 21 and Los Alamos on Oct. 18, but the shutdown ended Oct. 17.

Sandia spokeswoman Heather Clark referred inquiries on the possible shutdown to the Department of Energy’s national headquarters.

“Bottom line – the Department of Energy will be open for business on Monday,” a DOE spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Even if the shutdown occurs, DOE employees and contractors are expected to show up to work to receive further instructions.

In the past, “sworn” federal law enforcement, like FBI and DEA agents, have continued working during a shutdown, while federal courts heard only criminal cases.

Sonja Brown, associate director of the New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System, said advance appropriations for the Veterans Health Administration were made as part of the 2017 budget.

“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,” Brown told the Journal in an email.

National Park Service sites, including New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, were completely closed in 2013, but multiple media outlets are reporting officials will work this time to keep parks “as accessible as possible.”

The last government shutdown was from Oct. 1 through Oct. 17, 2013, and resulted in National Park Service sites being shuttered and mass furloughs.

The Journal reported then that more than 1,000 civilian employees were furloughed at Kirtland Air Force Base and 422 were furloughed from Holloman Air Force Base on Oct. 1, 2013, the first day of the shutdown.

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