WASHINGTON: Large sections of the US government closed down on Tuesday after Congress was unable to reach an agreement on funding for the new fiscal year because of a standoff over healthcare reforms. Federal workers and government functions have been divided between essential and non-essential services, and the effects will be felt in various ways - some acute, others barely noticeable. Here is a roundup of some of the impacts:
FEDERAL WORKERS: As many as 1 million federal employees have been furloughed and the knock-on affect will be felt at companies that do business with the government, such as large defence firms and other contractors.
MAIL DELIVERY: Deliveries will continue as usual because the US Postal Service receives no tax dollars for day-to-day operations. It relies instead on income from stamps and other fees to keep running.
AIR TRAVEL: Air and rail travellers in the United States should not feel a big impact. Security officers and air traffic controllers will continue to work as usual. The State Department’s consular services will continue at home and abroad, meaning visas will be issued and passports processed for the most part — except in rare occasions when consulates are housed in government buildings closed because of the shutdown.
SPACE TRAVEL: The shutdown idled most of Nasa’s 18,000 workers. Only 550 employees were considered exempt, including two American astronauts serving aboard the International Space Station and flight directors at Mission Control in Houston. Skeleton staff maintain key science and communications satellites but work on new missions, including preparations to launch a Mars probe on November 18, have been suspended.
SOCIAL SECURITY: Social Security and disability cheques will be issued with no change in payment dates and field offices will remain open but will offer limited services. Online services will remain open.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Sign-up for the new US health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act has begun as scheduled. The Medicare programme for older Americans will also continue largely without disruption. Across the vast department and its sub-agencies, about 52 percent of staff will be furloughed - some 40,512 workers.
NATIONAL PARKS: National parks have been closed to new visitors, and park roads, concessions and other facilities are now being closed. Overnight visitors have been given two days to depart. This will mean a loss of 750,000 daily visitors and an economic loss to gateway communities of as much as $30m for each day parks are shut.
WASHINGTON DC, SIGHTS: Most popular tourist spots in the nation’s capital closed on Tuesday. Barricades went up around some iconic locations, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Library of Congress, the National Archives and all Smithsonian museums. The National Zoo is closed and its popular live animal webcams were taken off line. All zoo animals will continue to be fed and cared for.
DEFENCE DEPARTMENT: All military personnel will continue on normal duty status but about half of the Defence Department’s 800,000 civilian employees will be placed on unpaid leave. The Pentagon has said it will halt military activity not critical to national security.
FEDERAL RESERVE AND OTHER FINANCIAL AGENCIES: Bank regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, remain open because they do not rely on Congress for funding.
THE WHITE HOUSE: The Executive Office of the President planned to furlough about 1,265 staff and retain 436 as excepted workers. Among the staff retained will be 15 to provide “minimum maintenance and support” for the White House.