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Possible government shutdown would affect Eastern Panhandle

By Staff | Apr 8, 2011

CHARLES TOWN – While the federal government may shut down today if lawmakers cannot reach a budget compromise, federal employees across the country and in the Eastern Panhandle face an uncertain time.

More than 600 people are federal employees in Jefferson County alone, working at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Advanced Training Center in Harpers Ferry and various other federal locations.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen until either there’s a resolution or the continuing resolution ends,” said NCTC Director Jay Slack in a phone interview Thursday. “We’re basically sitting here with our contingency plan should there be a shutdown. … We’re basically waiting for our next orders on what to do.”

Slack, who was a federal employee during the most recent government shutdown in the mid ’90s, said the previous shutdown was “an anxious time.”

“Everyone was laid off, they didn’t know if they were going to get paid, didn’t know what to do,” he said. “Basically there was a bunch of angst about trying to do our job, and then also the added angst of people … worried about making their mortgage payment and that type of thing.”

The NCTC has 130 federal employees and 110 contracted employees, who also would be affected by a shutdown. If a shutdown occurs, the center would cease all training and be run by a skeleton crew of four employees, Slack added.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park sees about 300,000 visitors each year and employs about 100 people, including seasonal workers and interns, according to park Superintendent Rebecca Harriet.

“Nationally, all 394 parks would shut down. We will close all visitor facilities, cancel all education programs, all special events would be canceled. … That’s everything from the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall to Yellowstone,” said National Parks Service spokesman David Barna in a phone interview Thursday. “This time of year we get about 800,000 visitors a day in parks … those visitors spend about $32 million a day in local economies. We will furlough about 17,000 employees if this happens.”

An additional 15,000 contracted employees would likely be furloughed in the event of a shutdown, Barna added.

If the government does shut down today, Saturday’s scheduled Potomac River shoreline cleanup will be canceled, Harriet said.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center, located on U.S. 340 between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, employs about 300 people, according to Stephanie Malin with CBP Public Affairs.

“Our operational plans are still being finalized, but our current understanding is that our frontline security and law enforcement personnel would continue with their duties during a shutdown,” Malin said in a phone interview Thursday. “We still believe that there’s an opportunity to avoid a government shutdown, but we’re working to ensure that we’re prepared for anything. What that means for the ATC specifically I can’t really speak to, I don’t have that information at this time.”

In addition to federal employees at these Jefferson County sites, numerous federal employees in the Eastern Panhandle who commute to Washington, D.C., or who work at other federal sites will likely be impacted by the possible shutdown.