ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Day One of the first federal government shutdown in nearly two decades made its mark on New Mexico on Tuesday with workers furloughed, national parks roped off and concerns deepening about the state’s oil and gas industry.
At Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, Giuseppe Arena and Monica Limon were saddened to find the monument’s famous cave dwellings closed to the public.
The two had come from Switzerland and Poland, respectively, to tour the western United States and had chosen Bandelier as one of their must-see stops on the trip.
“What can we do?” Limon asked. “We could go to Las Vegas (Nev.) and play. At least that will be open.”
At Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, 1,074 civilian employees were placed on furlough Tuesday, base spokesman John Cochran said. A total of 997 Kirtland workers were exempted from the order.
At Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, 422 civilian employees were furloughed, said 1st Lt. Stephanie L. Schonberger, the chief of public affairs at Holloman.
Also due to the shutdown, Holloman’s F-22 Raptor fighters and T-38 Talon jet trainers had stopped flying operations.
About 20,000 workers at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, the state’s two largest federally funded employers, were instructed to report to work Tuesday despite the federal government shutdown.
Independent contractors run the labs for the government, and in both cases they have carry-over funding left from previous years’ budgets to keep working for at least a short period of time, management of both labs said last week in memos distributed to their staffs.
New Mexico has historically had a high rate of government employees, and roughly 24 percent of the state’s nonagricultural workers were employed in 2012 by federal, state or local governments, according to the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque ranks 17th nationwide for its percentage of workers on the federal and military payroll, according to The Washington Post. Its roughly 21,000 federal workers make up about 5.6 percent of the city’s total workforce.
It was unclear how many of those 21,000 workers were furloughed Tuesday due to the partial government shutdown.
Oil and gas industry
Meanwhile, oil and gas outfits were keeping an eye on the partial shutdown after the federal Bureau of Land Management temporarily halted its processing of drilling permit applications.
A lengthy delay in the permitting process could lead to a slowdown of the state’s oil and gas industry, particularly in southeastern New Mexico, said Wally Drangmeister of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
If the shutdown is not resolved quickly, the BLM permitting freeze could impact New Mexico more than some of its neighboring states, due to large amount of federally owned land, he said. Roughly 35 percent of New Mexico’s total acreage is owned the federal government, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“The last thing we want to have happen is for there to be enough of a delay that rigs from the New Mexico side of the Permian Basin move to the Texas side,” Drangmeister said.
Were such a shift to occur, the state’s coffers could suffer. Taxes and royalties generated by oil and gas drilling make up a sizable chunk of the state’s revenues – an estimated 17 percent in the current fiscal year.
In Albuquerque, FBI agents and personnel seemed nonchalant about the partial government shutdown, showing up for work as usual Tuesday while knowing that they will not receive paychecks until the federal budget fight is resolved.
“This is not the kind of job that you can stay home and take off from,” said Frank Fisher, FBI media coordinator.
The FBI employs about 200 people in New Mexico at its headquarters in Albuquerque and its five satellite offices throughout New Mexico.
While post offices, border checkpoints and federal law enforcement agencies continued to work, the impact was felt immediately Tuesday in other areas.
At the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians in Albuquerque, a few white vehicles with U.S. government plates were parked outside in a nearly empty parking lot. Janel Manuelito, a private security guard, said that normally about 500 people work in the building that houses other government employees as well, but only about 30 “essential” workers were there Tuesday.
“It’s really funny – it’s so quiet today,” Manuelito said. “All these buildings around here have government offices, but they’re all closed.”
A few blocks down the street in Albuquerque, the U.S. Department of Agriculture building had signs posted advising visitors that the offices were closed and would reopen “once Congress restores funding.”
A woman leaving the building with a small suitcase said angrily, “Oh, we’re furloughed, all right.”
Outside the Social Security Administration on Cutler Avenue in Albuquerque, a young man with an expired driver’s license from Illinois was trying to get a federal form printed with his Social Security number so he could get a New Mexico license. Chris Faison said he had lost his Social Security card and was at the office on Monday, but was given only one page of the two-page document he needs for the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division.
“They dropped the ball,” he said. “I’m trying to do the right thing, so I can drive around legit. But they won’t even let me in the building.”
As at New Mexico’s 10 other national parks and monuments, most of Bandelier’s workers had been furloughed, said spokeswoman Chris Judson, who was off-duty but responded to a Journal telephone call.
“The law enforcement guys are on duty throughout the shutdown,” she said. They are patrolling parking lots and other points of entry to the monument and its trails, she added.
At the Forest Service’s Black Canyon Campground on the road leading up to Santa Fe’s ski area, about a half-dozen campers were preparing to vacate the premises.
Ian Bellinger of Albuquerque went to Black Canyon Campground with his girlfriend, intending to stay one night.
Because facilities were open and they’d be gone by today, their camping trip wasn’t affected by the shutdown.
But Bellinger was frustrated.
“The government is ridiculous,” he said. “Someone needs to figure something out.”
Off-duty Bandelier spokeswoman Judson said the monument’s law enforcement staff of four normally would be patrolling the park at this time of year for hunters anyway, and are broadening their efforts to check for other unauthorized people crossing its borders.
Two maintenance people will work a couple hours a day to make sure the pipes and buildings are all right, she said, as well as a person in the ecology section who needs to take an air quality reading once a week.
At the nearby White Rock Visitor Center is a guest book where people can sign in and comment about their experience.
“Last chance to see Bandelier. Thanks U.S. Gov’t!” wrote someone who signed their name as “We the People.”
Journal staff writers Jackie Jadrnak in Santa Fe, Charles Brunt, Joline Gutierrez Krueger, Mike Bush and Patrick Lohman in Albuquerque contributed to this report.