With the possibility of a government shutdown looming, federal offices in Oklahoma have been drafting contingency plans and preparing to furlough workers.
Several federal agencies employ Oklahomans, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Tinker Air Force Base.
“In accordance with these plans, all military personnel would remain on regular duty status, but all civilian personnel paid by appropriated funds would be furloughed, except for exempt employees and for the minimum number necessary to accomplish excepted activities that are essential to national security and safety,” Tinker Air Force Base officials said in a statement.
James Schmidt, president of the American Federation for Government Employees Local 916, said many of the Tinker employees he represents have already seen 20 percent of their work days furloughed in the last six weeks, and the possibility of missing more work leaves them in financially tough situations.
He added that many more may be required to report to work and will not be paid until the situation in Washington is resolved, which could take weeks.
“That's going to be a really tough time for those folks because they'll have to pay for their gas and their lunch and all the things, the expenses, you incur to get to work everyday,” Schmidt said.
Kelvin Droegemeier, vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma, said federal employees at the National Weather Service in Norman may not see a change in duties as long as the shutdown is resolved in a timely fashion.
“Although each federal funding agency has its own procedures for dealing with a shutdown, overall we're being told that we can continue to conduct research on federally funded grants that already have been approved, though no disbursements will be made during the hiatus, nor will program officers be available for consultation,” Droegemeier said.
A statement on the website of the federal court in Tulsa states the federal judiciary will remain open for about 10 business days and will reassess its situation and provide further guidance around Oct. 15. All proceedings and deadlines will remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised, and the electronic filing of documents with courts will function as normal.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said regardless of a federal shutdown, the state government will operate as usual, although the Oklahoma National Guard may face furloughs.
Weintz said if the shutdown occurs and is not resolved soon it could “result in a more widespread reduction of government services at the state level,” as well as create economic uncertainty and affect job growth.
Employees at several federal agencies located in Oklahoma, including the FAA and HUD, declined to comment on how the shutdown may affect them.
Schmidt said he and the employees he represents feel like bargaining chips for an argument that shouldn't be taking place.
“It's like we're being used as political pawns, pretty much,” Schmidt said. “And, no matter how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, it's been put into law, they voted on it, they've tried to repeal it 40 times.
“I think if you want to get rid of it, how the democratic process works ... you go out, you campaign, and you get the majority to reverse the law. That's how it's always worked in our country.”