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Local federal employees left in limbo

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen past the base of the Washington Monument just before sunrise in Washington, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(This story has been updated to include a clarification on accessibility to Crater Lake National Park).

The ripple effects of a partial government shutdown have reached Southern Oregon, from Crater Lake National Park to the IRS office in Southeast Medford.

Some 800,000 federal workers across the nation have been left in limbo, waiting for Washington, D.C. to decide their fates.

Updates are scarce, as employees at affected local offices either wait on furlough or work hours they won’t be paid for until the government reopens.

At the National Weather Service forecast office in Medford, the work goes on. Even though its overseeing department, the Department of Commerce, is closed, the Antideficiency Act requires that “essential” functions such as its continue.

“We are still able to perform our mission here at the weather service,” said Brett Lutz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He declined to give any more detail on staffing during the shutdown, instead referring the Mail Tribune to the Department of Commerce.

Employees considered “essential” are ordered to work during the shutdown, amassing backpay that they will not receive until President Donald Trump signs a spending bill.

“Essential” employees with the IRS’s Criminal Investigation unit, for example, were the two holed up at their desks Wednesday in the agency’s office at 960 Ellendale Drive in Medford. The lobby where visitors would normally come for appointments and help with tax issues, however, was shuttered.

Crater Lake National Park remains open to the public but will not be accessible by vehicle from the turnoffs from either Highways 138 or 62 (clarified from a previous version). The most recent update on the park’s Facebook page, dated Dec. 23, said that visitors, should they choose to, can snowshoe, ski or walk the 7 miles or so to the park entrance from Highway 62 — though they’re not allowed to use the plowed road.

The park will not be staffed during the shutdown, which means restrooms, backcountry permits and other services are unavailable.

Reactions to the road closure were mixed.

“Thanks to all the law enforcement, maintenance, and other “essential” federal workers who are working Christmas Day away from their families, dealing with public outrage from people who don’t understand that the shutdown is not the guy on the frontline’s fault, and without pay. Hang in there,” wrote Brady Walters.

“If the gov’t is shut down, then public lands that are paid for with public tax money should be open and available for public use,” Bill Maher wrote.

The roads up to Crater Lake are maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation. A state agency, ODOT is not affected by the staffing impacts of the government shutdown.

Gary Leaming, spokesman for the department, said that because ODOT has already received its federal funding for projects, which is the only purpose for which it receives federal money, that construction projects should also continue as normal.

“We’re not affected much by this,” he said.

Not every federal office is affected, either. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, is not an impacted agency, so the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City should be operating as usual. The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States Postal Service is also fully staffed since it is an independent agency.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.


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