Federal shutdown closes local offices, public access

Signs posted on federal offices show no one is there.

As the federal

shutdown continues this week with a Congressional

partisan stalemate, access to Forest

Service and Bureau of Land Management

documents and activities is also shut down.

From an inability to get firewood permits

to answers about planning documents, the

shutdown has all employees furloughed in

Sublette County’s federal offices.

When they will return to work and if they

will receive back pay has some worried – although

none have spoken on the record.

A call to the BLM’s Pinedale Field Office

results in a recording that “We are closed …

due to a lack of federal appropriations.” A

sign at the Stromness Building states, “Because

of a lapse in federal appropriations,

this BLM facility is closed.”

Emails to local and state BLM employees

were returned with automatic messages

about being out of the office due to the

“lapse of funding of the federal government

budget.” One press contact had already taken

annual leave.

The Pinedale Ranger District Office’s

phone message says: “We look forward

to returning your message once funding is

restored.” A sign on the door states, “This

U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently

closed, due to the lapse in federal government

funding. This office will reopen once

funding is restored.”

No replies came from any Forest Service

employees contacted via email.

The federally funded Natural Resources

Conservation Service’s Pinedale office is not

affected by the shutdown, according to Jennifer

Hayward, on holiday leave until Jan.

7. The NRCS office will be open Jan. 2 and

Jan. 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Wyoming Department of Transportation

also receives federal funds and sent out a

notice last week that the shutdown “is not

expected to have any immediate effect on

(WYDOT’s) operations. WYDOT will use

its borrowing authority to make sure that

construction contractors get paid for the

work they do on Wyoming’s highways.”

Public access

Most BLM and Forest Service project

documents are not accessible online. The

BLM’s half-dozen comment periods for its

regional sage-grouse management amendments

as well as the Riley Ridge to Natrona

pipeline final environmental impact statements

are unavailable.

Wyoming BLM’s supplementary February

lease sale notice with a protest period

ending Jan. 22 is not yet posted at the online

auction site, www.energynet.

Environmental groups Western Watersheds

Project and the Center for Biological

Diversity called out federal agencies for not

continuing public access during the shutdown.

“The BLM could have simply taken

no action and left the web links up for the

public to access when the government shut

down, but instead they took action to block

the public from seeing the amendments that

are proposed,” said Erik Molvar of Western

Watersheds Project. “The sage- grouse plans

are the single most significant conservation

effort for the entire Bureau of Land Management…”

He said Department of the Interior has

guidance that states, “Interior websites, including

bureau and office-specific websites,

will remain online, as permitted by their current

contracts and support arrangements.”

“With five different EISs running to

hundreds of pages apiece, with very short

30-day comment periods running simultaneously,

both conservation professionals and

the general public

are being blocked

from having meaningful

input on the

plan amendments,”

Molvar added. “The

BLM will now need

to extend the comment

periods so that

these plan amendments

can have the

full public review

required by law.”

Local concerns

Wyoming had

7,596 federal employees

as of

October 2018, according to Wyoming Department

of Labor, but with public information

offices closed, it is almost impossible at

this time to find out how many are working

without pay or how many are not allowed

to work.

Receiving back pay is a concern; local

furloughed employees said they will find out

if Congress restores their lost pay when the

shutdown ends. As the deadline approached

for the lapse in funding, it was generally expected

a shutdown was imminent.

While mandatory “time off” over the

holidays was not seen as a huge burden, the

extended layoff could prove financially devastating.

Furloughed employees might have

up to several days’ notice to report back to

work if and when the shutdown ends.

With Wyoming’s federal employees

bringing in annual wages of almost $124

million statewide, an extended shutdown

could have a longer lasting impact on state

and local economies.

Big picture

Of federal government employees,

380,000 are furloughed nationwide and those

considered “essential” must work without

pay (such as Secret Service and Transportation

Security Administration agents) although

legislation is expected to cover all

back pay, according to the Washington Post.

Social Security checks, Medicare and

Medicaid reimbursements, passport services,

food stamps and troops will continue

as usual. The U.S. Postal Service has continued

services with its 500,000 employees

nationwide because “the Postal Service is

self-funded,” it added.

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