Hundreds likely furloughed in Montgomery in wake of government shutdown -- Gazette.Net


Thousands of federal jobs and employees call Montgomery County home, but many were not working Tuesday after Congress’ inability to compromise on the federal budget, shutting down most government operations.

Exactly how many Montgomery County residents were forced to stay home was unclear, but most agencies in the county were slashing operations and mandating that most employees stay home. Employees who are furloughed are required to not work and will not receive pay.

Montgomery is also home to many companies that contract with the government. Those companies could see employees furloughed and delays in contract bids and awards.

Eighteen federal agencies and installations are in the county, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Institutes of Health.

When Congress failed to pass legislation to fund the government Monday night in an impasse over the health care reform law, it triggered plans for agencies to halt all but essential operations.

For the Silver Spring-based Food and Drug Administration, 45 percent of its 13,000-member work force was scheduled for furlough, spokesman Steven Immergut said. Most of those reporting to work Tuesday are paid with user fees, money outside the budget, he said.

The last time the government shut down in 1996, employees were eventually repaid for the closure. Whether employees will get back pay this time is up to Congress, said Jennifer Huergo, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Reached Monday, Huergo said she was among those who would be furloughed during the shutdown.

During the 1996 shutdown, which lasted three weeks, contractors were not reimbursed.

If all of Montgomery County’s residents employed by the federal government were out of work for one day, it would cost the county $500,000 in income tax revenue, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said.

Should the federal government not repay employees furloughed by the shutdown, he said it will affect actual county income tax revenue. To lessen the blow, Montgomery prepared for both federal furloughs by lowering its budgeted income tax revenue $60 million in fiscal 2014, he said. Whether $60 million is enough cushion, Leggett said remains to be seen.

In 2011, federal jobs totaled 46,020 in Montgomery, according to county data. The U.S. Department of Labor estimated the number of federal jobs in both Montgomery and Frederick counties at 51,400 in August 2013.

Many county residents work in federal jobs in Washington, D.C., or Northern Virginia. Of the county’s 971,771 residents recorded in the 2010 U.S. Census, 72,492 worked for the federal government.

Federal agencies prepare contingency plans

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is part of the Department of Commerce, which will keep only about 6,000 of its 46,000 employees on duty during the shutdown, according the department’s contingency plan.

Most research at NIST was scheduled to cease as well as most research as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring.

Officials were meeting Tuesday to discuss closure, expecting the Gaithersburg office to close about 3 p.m.

In Bethesda, the National Institutes of Health will continue patient care for current Clinical Center patients and provide animal care services to protect the health of its animals, according to information from the Office of Management and Budget.

It will maintain only minimal staff to safeguard facilities and infrastructure and will not admit new patients unless deemed medically necessary by the NIH director, and will discontinue some veterinary services.

Contractors could see furloughs, bid delays

Lockheed Martin is keeping its facilities open and employees will continue to receive pay and benefits unless directed otherwise by customers, company officials said Tuesday in a statement.

The impact on operations, work force and subcontractors during the shutdown “depends on individual contract terms,” Lockheed spokeswoman Jennifer Allen said. In fiscal 2012, Lockheed was the federal government’s largest single contractor with $37 billion in contract dollars obligated to the company, according to federal figures.

About $3.7 billion in federal contractors to companies in the Washington region, which is more than 20 percent, were adversely affected by funding delays during the 1996 shutdown, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Nymeo Federal Credit Union, which has offices in Frederick, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Adelphi, will allow temporary reduced payment for loans and even skipped payments to customers who are furloughed due to a shutdown. While its offices in federal buildings such as at the National Institute of Standards and Technology will likely close, other branches will be open and have increased staff.

Some contracts awarded by federal agencies are specified that awardees have the ability to find private funding for those projects. That’s the case with Rockville-based Standard Solar, which builds and installs solar electric systems, when it was recently selected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering and Support Center to develop photovoltaic solar systems on Army facilities. Standard Solar was one of 22 companies to be chosen under the Multiple Award Task Order Contracts program, which qualifies those businesses to compete for future solar projects.

“The awarded companies have been qualified by the U.S. Army to have the capacity to bring private sector funding to each of the awarded projects, so funding is not impacted by government shutdowns or extended sequestrations,” said John Finnerty, director of business development for Standard Solar.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade recommends companies that contract with the government confirm arrangements with regular contractors and suppliers in writing, and detailed documentation of correspondence should be kept in case future disagreements arise.

National park visitors asked to leave

Visitors to national parks, including the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Glen Echo parks in Montgomery County, were asked to leave Tuesday as Park Service employees worked to close and secure park facilities and grounds.

The park service will suspend all activities during the shutdown, except those needed to respond to emergencies, and will furlough 21,379 of its 24,645 employees, according to Management and Budget data.

Adventure Theatre MTC had to abandon its site in Glen Echo Park because of the shutdown, moving all activities to its Wintergreen Plaza location in Rockville, according to a news release. Adventure Theatre MTC provides children with theater classes, camps and productions.

Michael J. Bobbitt, producing artistic director, said in a statement that the theater was prepared for the effect the shutdown would have on his organization. But he was also confident that lawmakers would find a way to fund the government before it required Adventure Theatre MTC to cancel performances.

Not all government operations ground to a halt Tuesday, including the office of U.S. Rep. John K. Delaney (D-Dist. 6) of Potomac.

The U.S. Constitution mandates legislative operations continue and in response to a “constitutional duty” to represent District 6, Delaney’s Capitol Hill and district offices would remain open, the office said in a news release. Among the agencies open Tuesday was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, based in Rockville.

The commission had enough unspent funds from the previous year’s budget, which ended Monday, to keep it open and operating for one week, spokeswoman Holly Harrington said.

Should the government remain unfunded for longer, the commission faced keeping about 90 percent, or all but 300 of its 4,000 total employees off the job. Most NRC employees, about 3,000, work in Rockville, Harrington said.

The Department of Energy also had some money to stay open, spokesman Steven Thai said.

While Department of Energy employees reported to work Tuesday, Thai said how long the agency could sustain operations was unknown.

Department of Energy employees 13,814 workers and has a facility in Germantown. Once its money runs out, the agency plans to keep only 1,113 workers on the job along with 3,106 workers who are paid with funds from outside the general budget.