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Federal employees in region head for home after shutdown

By Jennifer McDermott

Publication: theday.com

Published October 01. 2013 2:00PM   Updated October 02. 2013 1:02PM
Tim Cook/The Day
The Submarine Force Museum in Groton is closed to the public due to the government shutdown.
Emergency furloughs hit 1,300 at sub base and National Guard

Close to 1,300 people arrived at work Tuesday morning at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton and Connecticut National Guard facilities, only to set up out-of-office messages and take care of last-minute business.

They left their posts after a few hours, not knowing when they would return, as the federal government shut down Tuesday for the first time in 17 years.

"Hundreds of hardworking, talented, patriotic employees are being sent home today with no clarity about when they're going to come back to work and what's going to happen to their lost pay," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who spoke with some of the furloughed employees Tuesday morning.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to extend the current spending rates for six weeks but also to delay the Affordable Care Act, which Senate leaders said they would not agree to. The government closed at midnight.

Shortly after the deadline, U.S. Rep. John Larson gave a fiery speech on the House floor in which he declared the American people deserve to have their government open and to know where their representatives stand.

"My brother called me and asked me if I was having a stroke," Larson, D-1st District, said afterward in an interview. "But when you see this happen to your country, and for no reason, it is beyond frustrating."

Larson said he was angered by some of the representatives who spoke before him, who said they were trying to be fair to the American people by not making them sign up for Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act is known. Larson said his response was, "What is fair to the American people is for you not to drag down this government."

"I'm thinking about putting a bill in," he said. "Let's call it Reagancare so they can get behind it."

Most federal civilian employees were furloughed Tuesday. The emergency furloughs affect about 750 of the 1,300 Defense Department civilians who work at the base in Groton and 540 technicians who work for the Connecticut National Guard, which combined is 1 percent of the workforce in southeastern Connecticut.

Col. John Whitford, Guard spokesman, said that with 540 people furloughed for an indefinite period, the Guard's day-to-day operations will slow down and eventually come to a halt if Congress does not agree on a spending bill soon.

Capt. Carl A. Lahti, the base commander, said his team will continue to provide for the nation's defense, and submarines will deploy.

Safety and security have not been compromised, Lahti added, but programs at the Fleet and Family Support Center will be suspended, services at the base's clinic will be limited and the Historic Ship Nautilus and Submarine Force Library and Museum will remain closed until further notice. The commissary will close today for the duration of the shutdown.

Courtney said most of the employees he spoke with were also furloughed after the automatic budget cuts imposed by sequestration went into effect in March.

"They are just feeling very used and sort of treated like a punching bag during all this budget gridlock, and I don't blame them," he said.

Courtney said he will work to ensure there is a provision in the spending bill to pay them. He said he thinks there are enough votes in the House to pass a "clean" continuing resolution, which would not seek to change the Affordable Care Act, if House Speaker John Boehner would call for a vote.

"The behavior of the House leadership is the most irresponsible event I've ever witnessed as a public official," Courtney said.

The National Guard's 1109th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group in Groton is one of the facilities that will be affected the most, Whitford said.

The 70 people who are deployed in Kuwait will not be affected, and the Guard is prepared to respond to any emergencies in the state, Whitford added. The next drill weekend has been postponed because of the shutdown.

"It should not have come to this," he said. "… I only hope this is very short-lived and Congress can come to an agreement and move forward."

Robert Faulise, president of the National Association of Government Employees, Local R1-100, and a base police officer, said the shutdown is worse than the furloughs caused by sequestration.

"At least that was only one day as week," he said. "This is every day and some employees won't get paid at all. There is a chance Congress could appropriate funds, but there's no guarantee that's going to happen.

"A lot of government employees we represent are devastated," he added.

Most of the civilian professors at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy were not furloughed, and work on the Coast Guard barque Eagle is continuing at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore.

Robert Hamilton, spokesman at Electric Boat, said a short shutdown is not expected to have any impact on operations, and the company will deliver products and services under the contracts that are in place.

In Connecticut, 52,000 veterans receive care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. All of the VA medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational, including the pharmacy and inpatient and outpatient services. Claims processing and payments will also continue, but could be interrupted in the event of a prolonged shutdown.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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