Partial Government Shutdown Will Compromise Some Services

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Much of the federal government is in the process of shutting down. With Congress unable to agree on a stop-gap spending bill, money for continuing operations ran out at midnight. Hundreds of thousands of government employees have been told to stop working — although President Obama says some vital functions will continue.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Much of the federal government is in the process of shutting down. With Congress unable to agree on a spending bill, money for continuing operations ran out at midnight and hundreds of thousands of government employees have been told to stop working, although some vital functions like Social Security checks, for example, or the postal service, will continue. NPR's Scott Horsley has more on which parts of the government are still operating and which are not.

For starters, the panda cam at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. has gone dark.


SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The five-week old baby panda at Washington's National Zoo is being fed and cared for during the government shutdown. But would-be zoo visitors are not so lucky. The zoo, like all the Smithsonian Museums here in Washington, are now closed to the public. So are the national parks. All told, some 800,000 government workers are being idled. But not all departments are affected equally.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jet Blue 1086, Kennedy Tower. Your traffic is a heavy triple-7 on a four-mile final.

HORSLEY: Air traffic controllers are still on the job, along with about two-thirds of all federal transportation workers. At the EPA, on the other hand, more than 90 percent of the workforce is being sent home, leaving EPA administrator Gina McCarthy with only a skeleton crew.

GINA MCCARTHY: Just emergencies, what we need to keep, to keep the lights on and to respond in the event of a significant emergency. That's basically what we're looking at.

HORSLEY: The White House Budget Office issues guidelines on who stays and goes during a shutdown, which government functions continue and which do not. In general, government employees keep working if their paychecks are not tied to annual authorizations from Congress, or if their jobs are considered vital for the protection of life and property.

That second category requires some judgment, though, and not all agencies take the same approach. Some food inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, are still on the job, while other food inspectors, for the FDA, will be sent home.

J. DAVID COX: There is no consistency to it whatsoever. There's really not a rhyme or reason. But the real issue is, you stay, you still don't get paid on payday. You go, you still don't get paid on payday. It's a double whammy.

HORSLEY: J. David Cox, who leads the largest union of federal employees, doesn't call this a government shutdown. He calls it a federal lockout. Economists say the sudden disappearance of paychecks for some two million federal workers is the single biggest impact of the government shutdown.

Doug Handler of the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight says even tracking that impact will not be easy. Of the 2,400 people who typically measure such things for the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, all but three have been told to stay home.

DOUG HANDLER IHS GLOBAL INSIGHT: Not only will the economic situation be in a state of flux, but we won't have any visibility to measure that state of flux.

HORSLEY: If the shutdown continues all week, it could delay the much-anticipated monthly jobs report, due out on Friday. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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