For now, impact is limited. But if the government shutdown is prolonged, a shortage of funds will impact everything from family-planning services to trade-relief for farmers to food safety.
Elena Bianco was looking forward to spending this Saturday like she did the last one: posted with binoculars along the upper Skagit River, helping people spot bald eagles as they migrate south from Alaska and Northern Canada.
But the program dedicated to watching America’s national symbol was stymied this weekend by the partial shutdown of the federal government — the third so far this year. Portions of some national parks were also closing on Saturday — though the National Park Service is attempting to maintain as much access as it can despite most of its staff being furloughed, a condition that raises safety concerns, according to some park advocates.
Bianco, a 10-year volunteer with the Eagle Watchers program, supported by the U.S. Forest Service, has contemplated the irony of this particular piece of the federal bureaucracy shutting down.
“In the great scheme of things, it’s a small impact,” Bianco said. “But it’s important to a lot of people.”
Most Read Local Stories
- Did your ballot reach its destination? Here's how to track it in Washington state
- Who will get COVID-19 vaccines first: Washington state health officials outline their plan
- The plot thickens in Seattle's protest story
- Coronavirus daily news updates, October 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world VIEW
- Fall surge of COVID-19 is hitting Washington, state officials warn
The partial government shutdown began after President Donald Trump and Democrats failed to reach an agreement to continue funding operations. The conflict prevents funding nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.
In many cases, the federal government shutdown won’t immediately hurt state-level programs, according to Washington’s Office of Financial Management (OFM).
For the time being, state agencies could use other dollars in their budgets to temporarily make up for federal funding for about a month. Those agencies include the state Department of Health, Department of Ecology, Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture, according to OFM.
But Washington will feel other effects quickly.
Federal trade-relief efforts for Washington’s farmers and ranchers would likely halt, according to an OFM document detailing shutdown impacts. Those efforts were intended to ease the pain of retaliatory tariffs by other countries in response to the Trump administration’s tariffs.
That includes direct payments to producers that were approved last Monday but which haven’t been transferred yet, according to the document.
Meanwhile, the Food Safety Program, run through the state Department of Agriculture, wouldn’t receive federal assistance on inspections and recalls. Likewise, Washington’s response to detecting and stopping instances of animal disease will be impaired.
While transportation projects aren’t expected to be delayed, the shutdown will hamper the Washington State Department of Transportation’s ability to get reimbursed for ongoing expenses. And the shutdown would likely stop the Federal Transit Administration’s work on legal, environmental and civil-rights reviews necessary to advancing projects to the point where they could get funded.
State agencies would need to ultimately be reimbursed for picking up the slack, or they’d have to cut elsewhere to balance their budgets.
For example, after about one week of a shutdown, the state Department of Commerce would stop getting federal reimbursement for programs that include helping crime victims, stopping sexual violence against women and preventing sexual assault. The state could fund those programs for about a month, but would need to be reimbursed by the Legislature or federal government to avoid ultimately cutting those or other programs later on.
The state Department of Health, which administers the Women, Infant and Children program and family-planning services, would face a similar situation, according to OFM.
The National Weather Service will continue forecasting operations during the government shutdown. Federal law-enforcement officers and Transportation Security Administration employees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will also work, though they won’t be paid until their agencies are funded. The U.S. Postal Service won’t be impacted, because it relies on revenues from its own operations.
At Mount Rainier National Park, the road from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire and the National Park Inn at Longmire “will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services will be limited,” according to a statement issued by the park early Saturday.
The road from Longmire to Paradise will not be plowed to maintain public access, though park staff are authorized to plow a single lane to maintain administrative access to utility systems and other facilities. Trails are also open, but recreation past the Longmire gate is prohibited.
“There are visitors in the park currently,” said Kathy Steichen, chief of interpretation and education at Mount Rainier National Park, who was about to switch off her phone in deference to the shutdown.
Search-and-rescue staff are at minimal levels, she added. An incident commander is on hand — standard procedure for special events, emergency situations or other unusual circumstances such as a government shutdown. But if people get in trouble in the park, they should not expect the usual response.
“We want to make sure that folks know that our emergency-response time is not the same as if we were fully staffed,” Steichen said.
During the January federal government shutdown, the nation’s parks were down to about 3,300 “essential staff,” compared with a park-service workforce numbering more than 20,000.
At Olympic National Park, many park roads and campgrounds were already closed because of damage from last week’s windstorms “and will now remain closed during the shutdown,” according to an alert posted to the park’s website. The alert adds: “Cell phone coverage is not consistent within the park and in many places is unavailable. Entry during the federal shutdown is at visitors’ sole risk.”
It’s a similar situation at 13 other national parks and facilities operated by the National Park Service in Washington. Nearly 8.4 million people visited those areas in the 2017 fiscal year, tourism that generated more than half a billion dollars in economic benefits, according to the park service.