Federal employees in Minnesota digging out their contingency plans

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2013 - 11:52 PM

The U.S. government workers in the state will learn Tuesday who’s essential and who’s not.

Show up to work on Tuesday and find out whether your job is essential to the federal government. That’s the message to federal employees in Minnesota wondering about a government shutdown.

Minnesota’s 18,359 federal workers were digging out their contingency plans Friday. But no one yet knew who would be deemed critical to government functions and who would be told to pack up and go home.

Jerry Brown, spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said all 80 field offices throughout the country will be shuttered if a shutdown occurs. Everything done through those offices would cease, including Federal Housing Authority mortgage guarantees. “We’re not going to underwrite any loans,” he said.

That was news to Dexter Sidney, Minneapolis field office director. He oversees 82 employees. Sidney said he got word earlier this week to start looking at the shutdown contingency plans. But as of late Friday, no one had received notices of their designation as essential or not.

“I’ve not gotten anything,” he said. “Boy, there’s a lot of brinkmanship.”

If the federal government doesn’t reach at least a temporary accord on the budget by Monday night, an array of government offices and services could screech to a stop. The U.S. Postal Service would continue to deliver mail and Social Security checks. Air traffic controllers would keep directing pilots. Doctors and nurses at Veterans’ Administration hospitals would be on the job. The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota would continue to hold trials.

National parks, however, would close and send campers packing.

Beth Lowthian, chief administrator at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota, said employees would come to work Tuesday and have four hours to collect personal items from their work spaces and shut down. “The majority of Voyageurs employees would be furloughed,” she said, adding that no one had yet received personal notice.

Those using the campground or lodges would have 48 hours to leave, she said.

As for what she would do if she were sent home Tuesday, Lowthian said, “I haven’t really thought that far ahead. ... We’re all having hopes the federal government will not shut down.”

Jane Nygaard, national vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees’ 8th District, which covers Minnesota, said it’s hard to know what’s going to happen Tuesday if the shutdown occurs. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope it doesn’t happen,” she said.

If it does, however, Nygaard said she expects many federal employees will be deemed essential — to buffer the politicians in Washington, D.C., from backlash. “Quite honestly, I don’t think they want the general public to feel it,” she said.

At HUD, Sidney noted that federal employees already have taken five unpaid furlough days this year — a full week of work — and they’ve not had pay raises for three years. Another shutdown is “something everybody is concerned about,” he said.

Then there are the HUD customers who rely on the subsidies and services to eat and sleep at night. “We’re really serving those who need it the most ... those who’ve been tossed through the windshield of our economy,” Sidney said.

He was hopeful Congress would at least pass a resolution to keep government running while it works out other issues. And if they don’t, Sidney said, “We’ll just have to find something to keep us busy at home.”

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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