What if they closed the federal government and no one noticed?
That seems to be the sentiment in Tucson and Southern Arizona during the first few days of the partial federal government shutdown that began Tuesday after the Congress and the Obama Administration failed to reach an accord on federal funding and the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Certainly furloughed federal workers have noticed and tourists and locals who wanted to visit Southern Arizona’s national parks, monuments, recreation areas and forests.
But most of Southern Arizona’s federal workers are exempt from furlough, they’re required to show up to work, though they won’t be paid until the budget impasse is resolved.
All military personnel at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca were required to report to work Tuesday, as were Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection officers. However some civilian workers at the military bases and for Homeland Security have been furloughed.
The federal courthouse in Tucson is still open, operating under 10 days of exempt funding. What happens at the courthouse after 10 days is unknown.
Other federal facilities in Tucson are closed or are operating with skeleton staffs.
For local businesses who are on the General Services Administration vendor schedule, only supplies and other materials for exempted agencies can be purchased, for instance, Customs and Border Protection can still purchase fuel and supplies off the schedule but Bureau of Land Management offices could not. The GSA also will delay rent payments until the government is funded. The GSA leases 26 buildings in Tucson.
The Small Business Administration is suspending all of its counseling services until further notice and SBA loan guarantee applications will be delayed. Local business support agencies that have received SBA grants for the calendar year are fine, however agencies waiting for grant funding will have to wait until there’s a budget.
All federal agencies were required to develop shutdown plans and post them on their websites, however confusion has reigned this week at some federal locations.
On Monday, local and state spokespersons for federal agencies were barred from discussing the shutdown with media and referred all calls to Washington D.C. headquarters where public affairs officials sent out static statements to all enquiries.
At Sabino Canyon, the most-visited federal park or recreation area in Southern Arizona, Donn Ricketts, the owner of the canyon’s popular tram, said Monday he had a letter that said as a forest service concessionaire he would still able to operate the tram during the shutdown, which he said was the case in 1995 when the government shutdown for 21 days. On Wednesday he said the Forest Service Tuesday afternoon closed the canyon, the parking lot, the visitor center and his tram.
Ricketts said he’s networking with his fellow members of the National Forest Recreation Association, a concessionaires group, and talking to other concessionaires around the country, many of whom are still operating.
Attempts to get clarification about Sabino Canyon’s status Wednesday were unsuccessful. All calls to the Forest Service, including public information officers, have the same message — closed.
In Cochise County, all three National Park Service functions — the Chiricahua National Monument, Coronado National Memorial and Fort Bowie National Historic Site — are closed.
Julena Campbell, the spokeswoman for the NPS functions in the county said 29 of 40 civil service employees have been furloughed and the rest will continue to provide security at the different sites.
Warren Meyer, owner of Recreation Resource Management, which operates campgrounds and other facilities in several national forests in Arizona, said Wednesday he sent a letter to Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake as well as Rep. David Schweikert, complaining that he had been told before the shutdown he could continue to operate but said forest officials told him Wednesday he had to stop operating his concessions.
How long the shutdown will last is unknown. Arizona Dist. 2 Rep. Ron Barber said Tuesday he couldn’t predict when the impasse would end. As of press time Wednesday evening, the government remained partially closed but President Obama had summoned Congressional leaders to discuss resolving the conflict.