Government
1:20 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

UPDATE: The Government Shutdown Is Over, But It's Still Affecting Texas

The government shutdown generated national headlines, but it affected Dallas-Fort Worth and the rest of Texas, too. Initially, about 800,000 federal workers were forced off the job. On Oct. 16, Congress approved a bill to end the 16-day shutdown and avert the first government default in U.S. history Here’s the latest:

Update, 10:23 a.m. Fri., Oct. 25: The government has been open for more than a week, but some federal workers in Dallas-Fort Worth are suffering from "wounded morale, disillusionment and uncertainty about the stability of once highly sought after government jobs," The Dallas Morning News reports. Experienced government lawyers are looking for new jobs -- and employees worry about future paychecks.

Update, 1:15 p.m. Fri., Oct. 18: Small businesses across North Texas are happy that the shutdown is over. At Bailey's Bar-B-Que, across from the Federal Building in downtown Fort Worth, business dropped up to 20 percent during the shutdown, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. Businesses near the Naval Air Station Fort Worth noticed a drop in customers, the newspaper said. Meanwhile, the National Archives at Fort Worth opened on Thursday. The Fort Worth district of the Army Corps of Engneers, which operates 25 reservoirs across Texas, said that it will take time to reopen all of its campgrounds and facilities around its lakes, the Star-Telegram reported.

Update, 4:07 p.m. Thursday: The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the SMU campus reopens at 9 a.m. Friday. It had been shut down for more than two weeks during the government shutdown. Spokesman John Orrell told KERA that even though federal workers returned to the job on Thursday, reopening the library and museum takes an extra day of preparation. Orrell said that security also has to be ramped up, and there’s probably some “dusting” or general housekeeping to do.  He says it was disappointing that individuals and groups, especially students with planned field trips, missed out on the library because of the shutdown. Café 43, the Museum Store and the George W. Bush Institute have remained open during the shutdown.

Update, 3:15 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 17: During the shutdown, some of the most essential services for farmers and ranchers — like crop insurance payments and federal inspections needed to get products onto the market — stayed intact. But the Texas Tribune reports the data that the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases on commodity prices, supplies and demand wasn't available. That has left producers flying blind when trying to come up with appropriate prices.“Any lack of information in a marketplace creates a situation that’s not very stable,” Jeff Geider, director of the Institute of Ranch Management at Texas Christian University, told the Tribune.

Update, 4:22 p.m. Wed., Oct. 16: Sen. Ted Cruz is unapologetic for leading the fight that has brought the federal government close to defaulting on its debt payments. Cruz, the Texas Republican, talked to media shortly after Senate leaders announced a tentative agreement to open government until Jan. 15 and extend the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. When media suggested Cruz had gained nothing in exchange for a fight that has divided his party, the senator claimed victory. KERA's Shelley Kofler has more.

Update, 1:45 p.m. Wednesday: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz says he won't delay a vote on a bipartisan budget deal that will reopen the government and avoid a financial default. Cruz had forced the shutdown by demanding that President Barack Obama gut his health care law in exchange for a bill to keep the government running. Cruz told reporters earlier today that he would vote against the bipartisan bill but wouldn't use Senate delaying tactics to stall the legislation.

Update, 12:02 p.m. Wednesday: A small group in Houston protested the shutdown near the Johnson Space Center on Tuesday. Cars passing near the entrance to the space center honked and gave thumbs-up signals to about two dozen protesters surrounded by reporters and cameras, the Houston Chronicle reports. No shutdown supporters were in sight, and honks of encouragement continued for nearly the entire two-hour protest by a group of union workers, many of them furloughed from the space center by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

Update, 11:51 a.m. Wednesday: The shutdown is affecting Joseph Levy, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, who should be headed to Antarctica, the Austin American-Statesman reports. But Levy gets National Science Foundation funding, so he's stuck in Austin. In Antarctica, he looks for ancient buried ice for clues about the ice ages of Earth’s past, as well as its current changing climate. KUT Radio in Austin interviewed Levy.

Update, 10:27 a.m. Tues., Oct. 15: Some military veterans are worried about benefits drying up in the event of a prolonged shutdown, The Texas Tribune reports. Claims processing and payments for compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October, but that will remain uncertain going into November if Congress can’t reach a deal. Other benefits have been limited since the shutdown, such as job training for disabled veterans and education counseling. The Veterans Crisis Line has remained in service, but a handful of other veteran phone hotlines have gone offline.

Update 12:04 p.m. Mon., Oct. 14: A West Texas county dependent on tourism is considering court action that would force the federal government to reopen Big Bend National Park during the shutdown. Brewster County Judge Val Beard told public radio's Fronteras Desk that the park shutdown is harming tourism. Thanks to agreements between the Department of the Interior and several states, a dozen popular national parks are open again, at least temporarily, NPR reports. None of the reopened parks are in Texas. As of Friday, Gov. Rick Perry hadn't decided whether to extend state funds to Texas' 20 national parks, forests and grasslands, a spokesman told the San Antonio Express-News. San Antonio's historic missions remain closed during the shutdown, although the Alamo is open.

Update, 10:55 a.m. Monday: Federal courts in Dallas may soon grind to a halt. Officials say the courts will run out of money by the end of the week unless Congress passes a budget, The Dallas Morning News reports. "That could have serious effects across the federal legal system, according to those who are a part of it, including for poor defendants and those who are trying to settle civil disputes in the courts," The News reports.

Update, 10:48 a.m. Monday: Laura and John Arnold of Houston have pledged up to $10 million to keep the Head Start program running in six states during the shutdown. The preschool program for children from low-income families abruptly closed in some areas because of a lack of funding.

Update, 10:18 a.m. Monday: The Texas Workforce Commission estimates that more than 660 federal employees in Dallas County have already filed for unemployment, The Dallas Morning News reports. The Texas Tribune reported that Texas has the nation's third-highest concentration of federal employees -- about 140,000 workers, according to the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Politics Project.

Update, 10:08 a.m. Monday:  Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas joined a crowd that converged on the World War II Memorial on the National Mall on Sunday, pushing through barriers to protest the memorial’s closing under the shutdown. Cruz joined Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Cruz says that President Obama is using veterans as pawns in the government shutdown. It was part of the “Million Vet March,” which called on military veterans to march against the barricading of the memorial. NPR has more details.

Updates from last week, the shutdown's second week, Oct. 7-11:

Update, 12:02 p.m. Fri., Oct. 11: The shutdown and budget standoff means a delay in next week's scheduled release of Texas unemployment figures for September. The Texas Workforce Commission on Friday announced the Oct. 18 jobless update would be postponed indefinitely due to national figures not available from the U.S. Department of Labor. The TWC produces state-level monthly economic estimates in cooperation with federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Update, 11:55 a.m. Friday: The training of new Border Patrol agents is at a standstill due to the federal government shutdown. Public radio's Fronteras Desk reports that the lack of new trainees could make the Border Patrol less effective and inefficient when trying to staff high-activity areas, including the Rio Grande Valley and Tucson, Ariz. Many offices at the Border Patrol Training Facility in Artesia, N.M., are closed. About 350 trainees have been sent home.

Update, 10:40 a.m. Friday: House Republicans met with President Obama on Thursday to discuss the shutdown and the debt ceiling. If Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling by Thursday, the country may no longer be able to pay all of its bills. The Republican team included Dallas Reps. Pete Sessions and Jeb Hensarling. “We've agreed to have our teams work together to see if we can come together and move forward,” Sessions said. “And that's what we're going to try and do.” NPR has a recap of the meeting. Republicans said they had a useful conversation. NPR’s Morning Edition covered the topic this morning.

Update, 10:23 a.m. Friday: Furloughed federal workers took to the street in downtown Dallas on Thursday to protest the shutdown. They’re fed up with Congress, worried about family finances, and they want to get back to work. “You know, it’s not just that we’re not getting paychecks, it’s hurting the whole economy," said Cheryl Scott, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency. "And people are panicked.” KERA's BJ Austin reported on the protest.

Update, 1:58 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 10: The shutdown has caused a brew-haha: The shutdown is putting a strain on breweries in North Texas after an obscure federal agency that approves new breweries, recipes and labels closed. The Dallas Morning News reports that the shutdown could create delays throughout the growing craft industry. The shutdown isn’t expected to have much effect on industry giants like MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch because they can continue to produce their existing products as usual, The News reports.

Update, 1:53 p.m. Thursday: A small group of North Texas federal workers took to the streets of downtown Dallas this afternoon to protest the shutdown, KTVT (Channel 11) reported. The workers, who are members of the American Federation of Government Employees union, say they're fed up with the furlough, and hoped to catch the attention of workers during the lunch hour.

Update, 1:44 p.m. Thursday: Another victim of the shutdown -- running the Texas-OU game ball from Austin to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry. For 30 years the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Texas has run the game ball from Austin to Dallas. Their counterparts at the University of Oklahoma did the same. But neither will be making the trip this year, KUT Radio in Austin reports. The tradition isn’t considered essential to the mission of ROTC Public Affairs Officer Lt. Matther Comer said.

Update, 1:34 p.m. Thursday: What’s the mood in Tyler during the government shutdown? The managing editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph spoke with NPR yesterday to discuss what residents in East Texas are saying. NPR also interviewed journalists in New Hampshire and Colorado.

Update, 1:20 p.m. Wednesday: The government shutdown is causing delays in the federal investigation of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said. Agencies reviewing the April 17 blast that killed 15 people can't meet while the government doesn't have a budget.  The Dallas Morning News reports that deadlines set by President Obama for Cabinet members and agency heads to review and overhaul regulations, safety practices, data-sharing and emergency response won’t be met. The first deadline, for agencies to submit proposals for improvements, is Nov. 1. The shutdown also is delaying the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s final report on the blast. But 10 Chemical Safety Board workers who remain part of the West inquiry have been furloughed, The News reported. KUT Radio in Austin has details, too.

Update, 11:59 a.m. Wednesday:  Sen. Ted Cruz is a C-SPAN star. When the Republican senator from Texas spoke for 21 hours on Sept. 24 to protest President Obama’s health care law, C-SPAN2’s ratings increased more than fivefold from the previous day, according to data provided to The New York Times. (We don’t know if the audience peaked as he read “Green Eggs and Ham.”) Ratings for C-SPAN are low – about 20,000 households watch it daily. And it’s even lower for C-SPAN2, which attracts about 13,000 households. On a brighter note, about 9 million households tuned into C-SPAN at least once in September, while 5.3 million households watched C-SPAN2. The Times reports that the ratings “popped up” toward the end of September as the government shutdown loomed.

Update, 11:25 a.m. Wednesday: This week, NPR’s Morning Edition explored the possibility that what's happening in Washington with the shutdown is, in fact, a game -- at least in the way that game theorists think about games. For those who are furloughed, the shutdown is no game. But researchers who study game theory have long observed that who blinks first or games of “chicken” have certain characteristics. NPR spoke with Bethany Blackstone, a political scientist at the University of North Texas.

“Using game theory doesn't, in any way, suggest the topics under consideration are frivolous,” Blackstone told NPR. “People make decisions based, in part, on what they expect other people to do. And so that's what game theory helps highlight, is the way that one person's decision can be conditioned by how they expect other people to act.”

Blackstone also connected the game of chicken with the shutdown standoff: “President Obama certainly has repeatedly said that he simply will not negotiate on the debt ceiling,” she said. “And what he is attempting to do there, it seems, is strengthen his bargaining position by impressing upon Republicans and the public that he will not be the one to swerve.”

Update, 1:31 p.m. Tuesday: The shutdown has stymied a new local group that places flowers on veterans’ gravesites. Remember Heroes started its service on Oct. 1, the first day of the government shutdown. Remember Heroes needs access to a government site that contains grave data. But that site has been shut down due to the shutdown. And without that site, it makes it difficult for this new group to find gravesites.

The group wants to place flowers at nine national cemeteries, including Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery. The group was founded by Mike Merit, a veteran who lives in North Texas.

“It’s unbelievably frustrating,” Remember Heroes spokesman Blair Hancock said. “We come to work every day and we’re raising awareness and encouraging people to honor veterans. We’d love to honor veterans but we can’t until the government ultimately re-establishes these websites.”

The group has been able to place some flowers at some local gravesites since it has some grave data. But Remember Heroes is also worried that an extended shutdown would limit access to cemeteries – burials, however, will continue at national cemeteries.

Update, 12:48 p.m. Tuesday: Furloughed civilian employees at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth have returned to work. They returned on Monday, following a Department of Defense order over the weekend that recalled most department civilian workers. The base commissary reopened Monday. Several hundred civilian workers had been furloughed.

Update, 12:33 p.m. Tuesday: While thousands of government workers have been furloughed, members of Congress continue to collect their pay. Which Texas Congress members are taking a salary during the shutdown? KUT Radio in Austin did some research. Some are donating their paychecks to charity.

Update, 12:20 p.m. Tuesday: President Obama plans to address the shutdown during a press conference at 1 p.m. Dallas time. NPR and KERA 90.1 FM plan to offer live coverage.

Update, 11:15 a.m. Monday: Lockheed Martin announced this morning that fewer employees will be furloughed now that hundreds of thousands of Department of Defense employees have been ordered to work because they’re deemed essential for national security. About 2,400 Lockheed employees will be furloughed, down from 3,000 that the company announced last week. Lockheed says the Department of Defense’s decision won’t “eliminate the impact of the government shutdown on the company’s employees and the business.” Lockheed has facilities in Fort Worth and Grand Prairie, but employees there won’t be affected, a spokesman told KTVT. Most are affected in the Washington D.C. area, the company says.

Update, 11:03 a.m. Monday: The North Texas Food Bank says it’s worried it won’t be able to provide hundreds of thousands of meals for families after 10 truckloads of USDA food have been canceled due to the government shutdown, The Dallas Morning News reported. Another 36 truckloads are at risk. The Food Bank was scheduled to receive 134 truckloads of USDA food between October and February. The group fears its service area of 13 counties will be missing as many as 305,000 meals over the next few months.

Updates from the shutdown's first week, Oct. 1-4:

Update, 3:02 p.m. Fri., Oct. 4: The shutdown might allow the flu to sneak up on us as the season begins. The Centers for Disease Control’s flu tracking program is on hold because of the shutdown and employee furloughs, KERA’s BJ Austin reports. “We can’t determine where the trends are in terms of flu cases throughout the United Sates,” Dallas County Health Department Zach Thompson said. “So it’s incumbent on everyone now to get the flu shot.”

Update, 12:07 p.m Oct. 4: The BBC visited the State Fair of Texas and other spots around Dallas to get Texans' opinions on the shutdown. One man wearing a black Stetson said: "I think it's good. The Republicans need to stand up to what's going on in this country and stop the Democrats spending money like it's going out of style. There needs to be a showdown and it's a good first step in the right direction." The BBC also caught up with Katrina Pierson, a tea party activist who's challenging longtime Rep. Pete Sessions for his seat in Congress.

Update, 11:27 a.m. Oct. 4: A group of out-of-work federal employees in San Antonio has delivered its own furlough notice to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. About 30 protestors gathered outside Cruz’ San Antonio office on Thursday, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio reported. The workers want Cruz to step down from his position because they say his high-profile filibuster on Sept. 24 lit the fuse that started the ongoing government shutdown.They presented his office with a notice stating Cruz should be furloughed indefinitely. Cruz has said Sen. Harry Reid and the Democrats are responsible for the shutdown.

Update, 2:54 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 3: In Texas, 20 national parks and forests are closed due to the shutdown. NPR’s StateImpact Texas reports: “You’ll find yourself out of luck if you want to collect pine cones in Davy Crockett National Forest or Instagram a sunset at Big Bend National Park. All of them are closed.” The Alamo in San Antonio remains open despite some incorrect media coverage, the San Antonio Express-News reports. Texas state parks remain open.

Update, 12:36 p.m. Oct. 3: The National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office continues to update its website. It will be updated and maintained during the government shutdown, according to a note on the site. However, noaa.gov and most associated websites aren’t available.

(By the way, the Weather Service site offers tons of good weather details and forecasts. P.S. Expect a high around 90 degrees today in Dallas-Fort Worth. But a cold front is on its way to North Texas by late Friday and early Saturday. Expect highs only in the 70s on Saturday and Sunday.)

Update, 10:52 a.m. Oct. 3: Honor Flight DFW remains in operation. Honor Flight flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to view the World War II Memorial. Flight No. 16 will take off as scheduled on Friday, according to the group’s website. In North Texas, WFAA-TV interviewed one veteran scheduled to go on Friday’s flight. Veterans groups that have planned trips to the memorial are being granted access despite the shutdown, The Washington Post reports. More than 125 World War II veterans from Mississippi and Iowa were initially kept out of the memorial, but Congress members helped push aside barriers to escort the veterans into the memorial.

Update, 10:43 a.m. Oct. 3: At the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, the DeCA Commissary is closed. It will remain closed through the government shutdown, according to the base’s Facebook page. The base suggests that military members or visitors call the office or facility they’d like to visit to make sure it’s open. Several hundred civilian workers have been furloughed. But military members, security officers and fire department workers remain on the job.

Update, 10:30 a.m. Oct. 3: Transportation Security Administration screeners and customs agents continue to work at DFW International Airport. A DFW spokesman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the airport isn’t experiencing longer lines at checkpoints because TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are at “full strength.” Meanwhile, the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery is fully funded through mid-October and the 15 daily burials won’t be affected, the director told the newspaper. While maintenance employees might have to be furloughed, burial employees will mow the grass.

Update, 10:16 a.m. Wed., Oct. 2: Federal courts will remain open in North Texas for at least 10 more business days, The Dallas Morning News reports. The FBI remained largely intact. Other federal workers continued to control air traffic and screen air travelers.

But Federal Aviation Administration inspectors who keep close tabs on everything from airplane maintenance to pilot performance were furloughed, The News reported. The shutdown also halted the federal investigation of the West Fertilizer plant explosion by the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Sarah Saldaña, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, told The News that a little less than half of her employees were at home.

Update, 10:12 a.m. Oct. 2: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that recorded messages at facilities such as The National Archives at Fort Worth informed callers that services are currently unavailable and workers “will respond when we are authorized to return to work.” At the federal building in downtown Fort Worth, it appeared Tuesday that most offices remained open — although it wasn’t possible to determine how long they would remain that way.

 

Update, 1:03 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1:  The IRS assistance office at the Earle Cabell federal building in downtown Dallas is closed. A sign on the door says "We apologize for any inconvenience."  Other information posted on the door includes an address for mailing a payment, and a referral to www.IRS.gov for the latest information. IRS help centers are closed across the country. 

The Dallas passport office on the 11th floor of the federal building is open for business.  

Update, 12:26 p.m. Oct. 1: The Justice Department asked for a delay in the trial over the merger of American Airlines and US Airways because of the government shutdown. The merger was weeks away from closing when the government sued to block it on antitrust grounds. The trial in the case is set to begin on Nov. 25.

In court papers, the department argues that the government shutdown prevents it from getting ready for the trial. But the Justice Department says that if the court orders the trial to go forward, its lawyers can keep working because the court order would be its legal authorization for the spending.

Meantime, a 2 p.m. press conference has been scheduled that will feature Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and American Airlines CEO Tom Horton. Abbott’s office may be dropping or amending its opposition to the merger, KERA’s Shelley Kofler reports.

Update, 12:06 p.m. Oct. 1: In Fort Worth, a few hundred workers at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base have been furloughed, officials told KERA. Most of them are administrative and office workers. Military members continue to work, as are fire department and safety members. On an average weekday, about 3,500 people work full-time at the base.

The station’s commissary will close starting Wednesday.

Workers were told to bring personal items home and to place an out-of-office note on their emails, said Don Ray, a base public affairs officer. Ray is being furloughed, too.

Update, 11:43 a.m. Oct. 1: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth district has announced the closure of all corps-operated campgrounds and parks.

Starting today, the corps won’t accept reservations or allow visitors into its facilities. Campers who were on site before the shutdown began have to leave the campgrounds by 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Those who have to leave the campgrounds by Wednesday will receive a partial refund. Customers who had already booked reservations may cancel for a full refund. Call 1-888-448-1474 to request a refund.

Original post with closings and other details:

  • The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is closed. The library will not be selling tickets or updating its website or social media accounts. The George W. Bush Institute remains open. Café 43 and the museum store will stay open, as well. Elsewhere in Texas, the Lyndon B. Johnson and George H.W. Bush presidential libraries are closed.  
  • Officials at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth said about half of the 1,600 civilian employees would be furloughed, KXAS-TV is reporting. Stores and non-essential offices on the base are expected to close at noon.
  • National parks in Texas and across the country are closed. In Texas, that includes Big Bend National Park and the San Antonio Missions.
  • In Texas and across the country, mail will still be delivered, Social Security checks will still be mailed, the exchanges that are part of the new health care law will still kick into gear today. Other "essential" services will continue.