Washington PA Observer Reporter
1 October 2013
By Rick Shrum, Business reporter
Shutdown of the Federal Government is Even Shutting Out Fun.
“The biggest impact is on our recreational sites,” said Dan Jones,
public affairs specialist with the Pittsburgh District of the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers. “Campgrounds that are not closed for the
season are now closed, and we’re notifying people who have
reservations or are at campsites (that they cannot be there).”
Recreation reigns near the 16 lakes or reservoirs the corps
oversees in Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West
None of those sites is in Washington or Greene counties.
Fun and more serious matters have been suspended or curtailed
temporarily by the government shutdown, sparked by a partisan
congressional battle over the Affordable Care Act – a.k.a.
Obamacare – that was to be implemented Tuesday. National parks and
a number of museums were closed, and many federal offices and
agencies either ceased or limited their operations.
Essential services will be maintained during the brouhaha over
President Obama’s health care law, which already resulted in the
furlough of about 800,000 federal employees.
In a message to those employees Tuesday, posted on the Social
Security Adminstration website, the president said:
“The federal government is America’s largest employer, with more
than 2 million civilian workers and 1.4 million active duty
military who serve in all 50 states and around the world.
“But Congress has failed to meet its responsibility to pass a
budget before the fiscal year that begins today. And that means
much of our government must shut down effective today.
“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. At my direction, your agencies should have
reached out to you by now about what a shutdown means for you and
For the local Corps of Engineers, the shutdown means it will
continue to provide essential services such as keeping locks, dams
and reservoirs operating.
“We have a responsibility to protect life and the waterways,”
Jones said. “But maintenance won’t be done during the shutdown.”
Four sets of locks and dams are along the Monongahela River in the
region: North Charleroi, Maxwell, Grays Landing and Point Marion.
Scott Gray, executive director of the Washington County Airport,
doesn’t anticipate any of its services being grounded.
“As of now, there is no impact,” Gray said. “The only thing that
could happen is our navigational equipment is owned and operated
by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and if those folks
are furloughed any length of time, maintenace of that equipment
could be affected.”
The Social Security Administration has closed its card centers,
but its field offices, including the one on West Beau Street in
downtown Washington, are open and providing a limited number of
Officials at the city office declined comment, but a recording on
its phone line advised that “you can access many of our services
online at www.soscialsecurity.gov as well as visit the list of
limited services available at our field offices.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is a state
agency, of course, seemingly unaffected by the shutdown. And in
the short term, that likely will be the case.
But Pennsylvania and other states are linked to the federal
Environmental Protection Agency is some ways. They have to follow
standards the EPA establishes in areas such as air and water
“They are the overriding standardbearer for environmental quality
across the country,” said John Poister, spokesman for the DEP’s
Southwest Regional office in Pittsburgh.
The EPA, Poister said, also provides “grant fundings for programs
mandated by the DEP.” If, for example, there is a shutdown and a
mine reclamation matter arose, the state agency would not be able
to get federal funding until after the shutdown ends.
Poister added, however, that “we don’t anticipate shutdowns in any
programs where we get federal grants because those funds are in a
treasury. We get a lump sum and use as needed.”
Otherwise, the DEP spokesman said, “all of our staff is reporting
and will be compensated at this time. If this lasts a long time,
there may be some issues we may have to look at. But at least for
now, we’re fine. There will be no drop in DEP services.”
Some offices in the William S. Moorhead Federal Building,
Pittsburgh, were closed Tuesday because of the shutdown. U.S.
Attorney David Hickton’s offices were running, but with a
“People from all job descriptions (are on furlough),” said Leo
Dillon, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Margaret Philbin, spokeswoman for the office, was among the
furloughs, some of which are voluntary. Tuesday, at least, Dillon
was assuming her duties – multitasking along with others working
“It’s early and the longer this goes on, the more pronounced the
effect will be. It’s difficult to operate with a skeletal staff,”
Dillon said. “But we will go forward in our dealings with law
enforcement, and the court schedule will go forward at least for
the immediate future.”
So is the Sen. John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh’s Strip
District. The center is open even though it is tied to the
Smithsonian Institution, whose museums in Washington, D.C., have
Brady M. Smith, communications manager for the center, said in an
email: “The history center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian
Institution but we do not receive any federal funding from the
Smithsonian or any goverment entities, so our operations won’t be
affected by the shutdown.”