By Austin Huguelet
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Hundreds of federal employees in Wyoming could face furloughs next week.
Unless Congress and President Donald Trump can break their deadlock over funding for a southern border wall, money for departments like Agriculture, Interior, Treasury and Commerce is set to run out at midnight Friday, leaving scores of locals in limbo.
Lawmakers approved money for other parts of the government, including the Department of Defense, earlier this year, so airmen at F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the Wyoming Air National Guard should be spared.
But Bureau of Land Management and Internal Revenue Service offices aren’t so lucky.
Contingency plans for both agencies call for all non-essential personnel to be furloughed in the event of a shutdown, including 87.5 percent of the IRS workforce across the country.
The BLM shutdown guidelines are not as specific, but spokesperson Cindy Wertz confirmed most employees would be affected: “If there’s a shutdown … there would be furloughs except for employees needed for (the protection of life and) safety.”
Department of Agriculture shutdown plans indicate Farm Service centers throughout Wyoming could also be affected.
The service centers are responsible for helping farmers and ranchers get information on regulations, conservation and various programs like those provided in the Farm Bill.
Wyoming’s famed national monuments and parks would also see impacts.
Spokespersons at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks declined to speculate on the potential impact of a shutdown.
But a National Park Service contingency plan states the staffing will be held to the amount needed to protect public safety and that visitor services – restrooms, trash collection, facilities and road maintenance – will not be provided.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Appropriations Committee staffers predicted more than 80 percent of NPS staff would be furloughed.
Employees deemed “essential” will work without pay until Washington strikes a deal to reopen the government.
The impacts of the closures could also be significant, depending on how long it lasts.
After a 16-day shutdown in October 2013, the Department of the Interior found that Wyoming suffered a loss of $20 million in visitor spending that month compared to previous years.
And staffers for Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, projected harm in the minerals industry, noting a BLM shutdown would suspend lease sales and permits for oil, gas, coal and other minerals on federal lands, which can’t be good in mineral-rich Wyoming.
Wyoming senators offered statements Monday expressing support for bolstering border security, but neither explicitly mentioned a wall and both expressed hope that Congress could avoid a shutdown.
“The Senate and House are currently working on an agreement that increases border security and keeps the government open,” said Republican Sen. John Barrasso, who is helping push a stopgap measure. This is what I believe the American people would prefer.”
Maddy Weast, a spokeswoman for Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., was more aggressive, saying her boss “believes Congress must take action to secure the border, fund the border wall and close the loopholes in the law.”
Weast added that Democrats should “stop playing politics and come to the negotiating table so Congress can do its work.”