Government shutdown's ripples felt across Arkansas

Posted: January 21, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The failure by Congress to pass a short-term budget resolution left federal employees from Arkansas scrambling Saturday.

Many were uncertain whether they'd be furloughed or whether they'd be required to work.

On its Facebook page, Little Rock Air Force Base posted a note from Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright urging people to "take care of each other during this uncertainty."

While those in uniform are continuing to work, they won't be paid until the congressional stalemate is broken, he added.

Thousands of civilian employees, on the other hand, will be furloughed during the shutdown, he noted.

Later Saturday, the base announced that its library and wood shop had been closed because of the funding lapse. Other offices were also scheduled to close.

Employees in other federal buildings were awaiting instructions.

Dak Kees, the newly appointed U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, said staff members in his office will meet "bright and early" Monday morning to discuss the situation.

Some workers will be told to remain on the job. Others will be given furlough notices and sent home.

"We will tell them to continue to monitor our website, to monitor their email, monitor their government phones and we will be in contact with them as soon as we know things," he said.

Law enforcement work will continue.

"Criminal justice, the prosecution of crimes, are essential," he said. "The criminal side of the house will continue to function."

Nonessential travel will be canceled, he said.

Kees, who started work earlier this month, hopes lawmakers find a solution before Monday morning's staff meeting.

"I'm praying they get this resolved. I'm praying, yes sir," he said.

In a text message, Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said he'll be meeting with his management team this afternoon "to make decisions within the guidelines provided to us by the Department of Justice related to the essential personnel necessary to maintain the operation of the office."

"As for court related activity, we have a criminal trial set this week and anticipate moving forward with little if any impact on our case preparation," he added.

The U.S. State Department announced Saturday that "scheduled passport services in the United States and our posts overseas will continue during the lapse in appropriations as the situation permits."

The statement didn't address how the funding situation would affect the passport office in Hot Springs, however.

White House officials said the U.S. Postal Service would continue to operate; border control agents, firefighters and airport security forces will also remain on the job.

Notices to congressional employees, meanwhile, have started going out.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford has furloughed 11 of his employees, Chief of Staff Jonah Shumate said. He is also temporarily closing his offices in Mountain Home, Cabot and Dumas.

Calls to the Jonesboro Republican will be routed to his hometown office, where two employees will remain on the job. In Washington, three staff members will continue to work.

U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock is closing his Conway office until the standoff is resolved. A skeleton crew will continue to work in the Republican's Little Rock and Washington offices, spokesman Caroline Thorman said.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman said the Hot Springs Republican's Washington, D.C., Ozark and El Dorado offices will remain open, but two district offices will close.

Westerman's Pine Bluff office is in a federal building. The Hot Springs office is in the same building as the the Hot Springs National Park headquarters, which will be closed.

As a result, "we can't get into the buildings during the shutdown," spokesman Ryan Saylor said.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman classified all of his staff members as "essential employees," ensuring that they'd be on the job Monday morning. A spokesman for the Rogers Republican said all of his offices will remain open.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Dardanelle, took a similar approach.

"All full-time staff is considered essential and our offices will be open Monday," a spokesman said.

The fate of U.S. Rep. Steve Womack's staff members had not been settled by Saturday evening.

"We're not sure at this point who will be staffing what, but our offices will be open," a spokesman for the Republican from Rogers said.

A Section on 01/21/2018