From Idle Scientists To Federal Grants In Limbo, Government Shutdown Takes A Local Toll

Jan 10, 2019


Tomorrow is payday for federal workers, but many won’t be getting a check. The ongoing partial government shutdown is putting a strain on local families and comes with hidden costs.  

2019 has been off to a strange start for Elliott Hazen. He works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, in Monterey. He should be in the office, but on this weekday morning, he’s sitting in a loud coffee shop. A sticker stands out on  his vest; it reads, “I’m a school visitor.”

Hazen has been volunteering in his daughter’s school, meeting with friends and working on his house.  

“So the ‘being able to get things done’ is great. But being unable to plan and, even more importantly in some ways, being unable to do the work that I love is extremely frustrating,” says Hazen.

Hazen is a Research Ecologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.  In the back of his mind, he sees the work piling up and opportunities lost.

“There are research cruises going on that are shuttered and we're going to lose that data point for future studies. So we won't understand how the ocean is responding to current environmental conditions because we don't have the boats on the water going out and measuring those,” Hazen says.

Hazen’s office is closed. He couldn’t go to work even if he wanted to. He’s one of  roughly 800,000 federal employees going without pay. But some are still working, like Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.

Monterey Regional Airport Executive Director Michael La Pier says TSA agents and air traffic control staff have been showing up and keeping everything safe and on time.

“What I'd love to see is the people that fly out tomorrow, tell the folks at TSA, ‘thank you’. I mean that goes a long way,” La Pier says.

La Pier sits in a board room overlooking the airport’s runways. He says there’s also some hidden costs to the shutdown. Repair work on the runway for smaller planes is supposed to begin next month. But the project relies on a federal grant.

A federal grant is making a rehabilitation project on one of Monterey Regional Airport's runways possible. Work is scheduled to begin in February, but airport officials worry the government shutdown could slow work.
Credit Erika Mahoney

“The funds have been allocated. We have a grant, but FAA is a part of that process and we're unsure as to whether they will continue to be a part of that process during the shutdown. So lots of uncertainty there,” says La Pier.

What is certain, bathrooms are closed at Ford Ord National Monument. Signs hanging on the door handles read, “Due to the partial federal government shutdown, bathroom facilities are not available.”

Bureau of Land Management employees aren’t there to keep the trails clean and empty trash bins. But local volunteers like Jim Ryan are helping out.

Many local Bureau of Land Management employees are also furloughed. So for now, restrooms are locked.
Credit Erika Mahoney

Ryan is a member of Monterey Off Road Cycling Association, or MORCA. The group helps with trail maintenance at Fort Ord. Its members and Ryan have been coming out more often since the shutdown began.  

“When I first came out and went to the trash cans, they were overflowing,” says Ryan.

Jim Ryan has been volunteering at Fort Ord for over a decade. Since the shutdown began, he's been coming out more often to pick up trash and help fill the gap in service.
Credit Erika Mahoney

So he posted the pictures on the MORCA Facebook page. Since then, he says people have been doing their part to keep the National Monument clean.

“I think this is something that people will look back on and reflect upon the fact that people are stepping up and they're picking up, both literally and figuratively,” Ryan says.

Over in Washington D.C., House Democrats are trying to re-open government agencies by passing individual bills. Congressman Jimmy Panetta is pushing for a bill that would reopen the Department of Agriculture. This would continue funding for food safety inspections, nutrition programs like food stamps and programs funded in the recently passed Farm Bill.  Panetta took to the House floor Thursday.

“If this shutdown doesn’t end soon, there are many provisions of that Farm Bill that will not be implemented. Why? Because the USDA is closed. Agricultural research is suspended and families may not get their benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  Those are just part of the problems with the partial government shutdown,” says Panetta.

While this is technically a partial government shutdown, Panetta says there’s nothing partial about no pay for federal workers.