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Federal courts, law enforcement agencies would stay open

  • Blog Post by: Corey Mitchell
  • September 30, 2013 - 5:05 PM

By Randy Furst and Corey Mitchell

If Congress doesn’t settle on a spending deal by midnight, many federal programs and activities will stop and won’t restart until a new deal is approved.

But the entire federal government won’t grind to a halt.

Federal agencies have prepared plans to continue programs deemed critical to maintaining public safety and protecting property despite the shutdown.

Employees who perform those critical functions will continue to work and get paid.

The U.S. District Court in Minnesota posted a notice on its web site that normal operations will continue on Tuesday if there is a shutdown. All cases, including civil and criminal jury trails will continue, the clerk’s office will remain open, and the court web site where court documents are now filed electronically will continue to operate.

Prosecutors in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Minneapolis stay on duty, but only for “essential public safety work,” said Jeanne Cooney, director of community relations.  “We have some trials (in progress) and they will keep going.”

About two-thirds of the criminal division support staff will be sent home. In the civil division, virtually all of the 15 lawyers and a dozen support staff in the U.S. Attorney’s office will be sent home. One or two lawyers may stay on for emergencies, Cooney said.

Owen Putman, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman, said that “essential operations will not be affected in Minnesota.”

FBI operations in Minnesota will not be affected. According to a U.S. Justice Department statement, all agents and support staff are exempted from the furlough.

The State Department will continue to process passports and visas because funding for those services comes from fees rather than government funding. But some passport offices are located in federal buildings that would have to shut down if the shutdown stretches on. Officials advise travelers to call their local passport office before showing up.

Robert Schmidt, public information officer for the St. Paul office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that some employees in the local office, primarily support staff, have been notified that they should not report to work if there is a shutdown. He declined to give the number who would be affected.

For now, Sharon Lubinski, Minnesota’s U.S. Marshal, expects operations to continue.

“There is no specific direction at this time,” Lubinski said. “We are not at that deadline.”

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