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The federal government's partial shutdown has not affected operations at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in White Hall, but research activities at the National Center for Toxicological Research in nearby Jefferson have been affected, according to officials.

There have been no furloughs and no missed paychecks for the arsenal's 640 civilian employees as the U.S. Department of Defense remains unaffected by the shutdown, according to Cheryl Avery, public affairs officer for the arsenal.

However, most employees at the National Center for Toxicological Research facility have been furloughed or partially furloughed, a representative of the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., said in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Approximately 25 percent of the federal government has been shut down since Dec. 22 because of an impasse between Congress and President Donald Trump, who has said he will not sign a bill to fund the government unless it includes money to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Friday marked the 21st day of the standoff between the Republican president and Democrats in Congress, which has stalled funding for many high-profile federal agencies such as the FDA and the Transportation Security Administration, among others.

A lack of operating funds for these and other federal agencies has resulted in nonessential personnel being furloughed for the duration of the shutdown, while others work without pay until funding is restored.

It is unknown how long the shutdown will last. Previously, the longest federal government shutdown is U.S. history was 21 days in 1995-96 during a dispute between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Approximately 700 people are employed at the National Center for Toxicological Research, 400 of whom are federal employees and 300 of whom are contract workers, according to a person at the facility who declined to give her name when contacted by phone. The woman also declined to answer further questions and referred other inquiries to the FDA.

According to information provided by the FDA, all but about 25 employees at the research center have been furloughed or are on partial furlough for the duration of the shutdown.

Bryan Barnhouse, chief operating officer for the nonprofit Arkansas Research Alliance, said the National Center for Toxicological Research facility develops tools, assessments and techniques used by the FDA to determine if medical devices and pharmaceuticals are suitable for use on humans.

Barnhouse said any interruption in that research could be detrimental.

"The bigger risk is to the scientific research that is ongoing that could be compromised by a long-term shutdown," Barnhouse said. "Continuity in scientific research is critical. Right now they are running a skeleton crew which, if this doesn't get resolved soon, is going to be a problem."

That isn't the case at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, Avery said. For now, the approximately 650 civilian employees of the arsenal, which works under the direction of the Department of the Army in Washington, D.C., are not facing furloughs or the possibility of missed paydays. That could change if the shutdown continues.

"It's possible, but we of course wouldn't know until it comes down from our higher headquarters at the Pentagon," Avery said. "For now, it's business as usual for us."

The arsenal had an operating budget of $147.2 million and a payroll of $57.8 million in fiscal 2018, according to information provided by the arsenal. The facility consists of 665 buildings and 271 igloos, with a total storage capacity of just over 2 million square feet.

Established in 1941 for the manufacture of incendiary grenades and bombs for use in World War II, the arsenal now includes production and storage of pyrotechnic, riot control and chemical-filled munitions.

There is also no immediate danger of furloughs for the roughly 800 civilian employees at Little Rock Air Force Base, according to Lt. Hunter Rininger, public affairs officer for the base. Rininger said that because funding for military operations was approved last year, the operating budget for fiscal 2019 funds all Defense Department operations through Sept. 30.

Operations at Camp Robinson also haven't been affected by the shutdown, according to Maj. Will Phillips, public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard. Phillips said there are 494 civilian employees working at Camp Robinson.

"The shutdown has not and will not affect military operations of any kind during this fiscal year," Phillips said. "We are ready and will remain ready to perform our mission, including our civilian employees."

State Desk on 01/12/2019

Print Headline: Federal shutdown spares Arkansas arsenal

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