A partial shutdown of the United States government began on Tuesday, an event that has not happened since 1995. Tens of thousands of government employees are facing furloughs as legislators fight over the controversial Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. Without an agreement on funding before the start of the fiscal year, the federal government entered its first shutdown in 17 years.
Key services such as law enforcement, the US military, and the US Postal Service will continue to operate through the shutdown. Calls to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) revealed that these organizations will still be open for the duration of the shutdown. This means that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a database used by firearm retailers to determine whether a customer is eligible to purchase firearms, will still be operating.
“I believe [the NICS is] considered essential and will not shut down,” FBI Special Agent Robert Beeckman told OutdoorHub.
However, the ATF will be operating with limited functionality as many employees have not been exempted from the shutdown’s furloughs. As a result, waiting periods for some gun-related documents may increase. Call center employees at the ATF headquarters in Washington, D.C. said they simply do not have the manpower to process applications. Historically, the 1995-1996 shutdown also caused delays for ATF-related issues.
Agencies such as NASA, the US Geological Survey, and the US Environmental Protection Agency are almost entirely shut down except for essential personnel. As of early Tuesday morning, many government websites have been closed down and visitors directed elsewhere. Among these are the National Park Service (NPS), which oversees over 400 national parks, and the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which safeguards America’s natural resources. In the coming days the NPS will be implementing a phased shutdown plan which will eventually place 21,379 employees on furlough. A total of 3,266 employees will still come to work, most of whom serve law enforcement, maintenance, or fire safety roles.
“All areas of the National Park and National Wildlife Refuge Systems would be closed and public access would be restricted,” read a release from the Department of the Interior written in anticipation of the shutdown. ”The Bureau of Land Management would terminate all nonemergency activities on the public lands.”
From Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, all national parks, forests, and monuments have been closed for the duration of the government shutdown. Some open-access areas, which receive only minimal maintenance from NPS or Bureau of Land Management employees, will remain open.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans on placing 7,751 employees on furlough, with 1,794 exempt. Remaining employees will be responsible for wildlife and fish at the USFWS’ numerous refuges and hatcheries.
As the shutdown went into effect on October 1, President Barrack Obama released a message to government employees promising a quick resolution of the current crisis.
“I want you to know that I will keep working to get Congress to reopen the Government, restart vital services that the American people depend on, and allow public servants who have been sent home to return to work,” Obama wrote in the message. “At my direction, your agencies should have reached out to you by now about what a shutdown means for you and your families.”
Government employees are not the only ones affected by the shutdown. With so many workers staying home, countless businesses and industries will also feel the impact. At the top of that list are business owners who depend on tourism to America’s national parks and monuments. During the 1995-1996 shutdown, it is estimated that the NPS lost seven million visitors over the month-long crisis. If the current shutdown lasts for a similar period or longer, communities near attractions like the Grand Canyon may soon feel an economic strain.
Notably, Google celebrated the 123rd birthday of Yosemite National Park today during the park’s closure.
Officials with the NPS and USFWS cannot be reached for comment because of the shutdown.
Image courtesy Architect of the Capitol