Minot feds face brownout

As legislators in Washington, D.C., dug their trenches Monday night over government spending, there is concern that federal agencies may be sent into a state of shutdown for the first time in 17 years. Even 1,600 miles away, the ripples would be felt in Minot as a number of federal offices would have to lock their doors or tighten their belts until an agreement is reached.

A sudden furlough of defense contractors on Minot Air Force Base might be the most noticeable effect, with several hundred civilian employees serving a number of functions on base.

“I can tell you that a variety of services will be cut back,” explained Capt. Jeff M. Nagan, the base’s public affairs officer. “Particularly our mission support element,” he added, which ranges from equipment maintenance services to the base commissary. When employees come in to work today, they are asked to come prepared for shutdown operations.

“You plan for it, but hope it never happens.” He said that the Air Force Chief of Staff sent out a memo last week giving workers notice of the possible shutdown. Uniformed personnel might also be affected, still working but unpaid for the duration of the shutdown.

“If it does happen, we have to work together to get through it” and mitigate that impact, Nagan had said.

Elsewhere in the state, U.S. District Court in Bismarck would continue to remain open at full capacity for 10 business days, should the shutdown persist for so long. If it runs past Oct. 15 though, the court will have to pare down its services to essential functions, described as a moving target which would be reassesed daily by the clerk of the court and judicial staff.

A number of critical Department of Homeland Security services and programs would remain operational, including National Flood Insurance and border security measures. However, non-disaster grants administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the DHS E-Verify system would be among those programs temporarily cut.

U.S. Postal Service would run as usual, the day-to-day activities of delivering mail covered by its fees. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Minot acquisition office would also still be open, because its quotidian operations are funded through the sale of migratory bird stamps and the like.

Other offices with the Department of the Interior would not be so fortunate, with the wildlife refuges at Upper Souris and Audubon shuttering themselves off from public use. Indian Affairs agencies around the state would be affected as well, but exactly how is unclear. A representative with Fort Berthold Agency had replied that essential employees would remain on staff, but would not go into specifics on how services would be affected.

“Like everyone else, there’s no certainty as to what will happen,” said Grant Buck, who chairs the Department of Agriculture’s service center for Minot. While his office was made aware of protocols for a closure, its nature and duration was unclear.

“We’re in the dark, basically,” he said.

Calls placed to the Department of Labor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Customs and Border Protection were directed elsewhere or otherwise not returned by press time.

Across the country, functions of the bureaucracy deemed nonvital would be put on hold, affecting about two-fifths of some 2 million employees. Even if the House and Senate find a compromise on a continuing resolution, another fight over the government’s debt ceiling is imminent, with a spending limit Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said last week would be reached on Oct. 17.