Military, taxman and even tourists affected

Members of the US Park Police placing a sign near the ferry dock for the Statue of Liberty in New York, announcing its closure following the federal government shutdown.
Members of the US Park Police placing a sign near the ferry dock for the Statue of Liberty in New York, announcing its closure following the federal government shutdown.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The United States military faced a variety of consequences as a result of a federal government shutdown, with US troops working at least temporarily without pay, thousands of civilian employees furloughed, and Republicans and Democrats alike saying that their opponents should do better for the troops.

Defence Secretary James Mattis said in a memo released by the Pentagon on Saturday that the military will continue to carry out operations across the world, but the shutdown already was prompting the cancellation or delay of training for reserve units and having other effects, reported The Washington Post.

General Mattis pledged to do his best to mitigate disruptions and the financial impact on military families. "We will continue to execute daily operations around the world - ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa and South Asia," he wrote.

"While training for reservists must be curtailed, active forces will stay at their posts adapting their training to achieve the least negative impact on our readiness to fight," Gen Mattis said, adding: "Steady as she goes - hold the line."

According to a Pentagon planning memo, all active-duty uniformed personnel are to continue their duties but will not be paid until after the shutdown is resolved.

Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said the shutdown would not have a significant impact across the Middle East, where US troops are conducting operations against militants in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere, and where the US military has a host of major bases.

The pay situation threatened the financial well-being of service members, whose annual salaries begin at less than US$30,000 (S$39,600).

 

Congress has historically given the military back pay when a shutdown occurs or passed a Bill that pays them during a work stoppage. US troops are paid twice a month, and the next pay cheque is expected on Feb 1.

While uniformed personnel are largely shielded from the shutdown's effects, civilian employees whose jobs are not deemed critical to defence operations will be furloughed, according to the same Pentagon memo. There are more than 740,000 Defence Department civilians. Gen Mattis said that about half of them would be furloughed.

Former officials said that the impact of the shutdown, especially if it goes on for an extended period of time, may be felt most keenly in military readiness because of its effect on civilian or reserve personnel involved in maintenance and training. Military intelligence activities, which often rely on civilian personnel, could also be affected, they said.

Meanwhile, multitudes of Americans who visited US parks and monuments on Saturday were confronted with one of the confusing realities of the shutdown - certainly the one that affected the public most on Day One. Some national parks were open, but unsupervised.

Other iconic parks and monuments were closed, including the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, presidential homes, and other historical and cultural sites primarily made up of buildings that can be locked. The closures left a lot of tourists disappointed, and that sentiment is likely to grow today unless a spending deal can be agreed upon by Congress.

While 44 per cent of the Internal Revenue Service's employees were exempt from being furloughed, more than half of the Department of Transportation's staff were expected to continue working.

Key medical programmes will continue to operate, but critical disruptions could occur across some programmes, reported Fox News.

Nearly all Justice Department employees were to continue working, including most members of the national security division, US attorneys and the FBI. State Department operations were also not subject to a shutdown. Nearly 90 per cent of Homeland Security employees were also considered essential and would continue to perform their duties during the shutdown.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'Military, taxman and even tourists affected'. Print Edition | Subscribe