WatchSonoma Watch

Federal workers brace for government shutdown


As budget talks moved slowly Thursday in Washington, federal employees in Sonoma County and throughout the country braced for the possibility that the government may shut down this weekend.

Thanks to their essential military or safety roles, many federal employees in Sonoma County will be spared from unpaid furloughs. But others may have to face the news that they may be sent home or their paychecks delayed.

There are about 1,600 federal employees working in Sonoma County, according to the Office of Personnel Management Federal Employment Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Exactly how many workers will be impacted is difficult to say, because each department has different rules about what roles are essential.

The Postal Service employs the most, with 1,179 workers and they will be spared the budgetary pain.

“We’re unaffected by the shutdown because we receive no tax dollars,” said Jim Wigdel, spokesman for the Postal Service. Mail deliveries and services will continue as usual.

But taxpayers looking for help filing their 2010 papers, due in about a week, may have a hard time getting their questions answered because those offices are likely to close if a shutdown does occur.

Field representatives at the IRS office on Sonoma Avenue were busy Thursday helping the public navigate deductions and forms, but they would not answer questions about the federal shutdown and did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Tom Sullivan of Santa Rosa was there to ask for tax information.

“It’s ridiculous,” Sullivan said. “They’ve got jobs to do, and they just want to make their jobs more important than everybody else’s.”

Officials in Washington also were frustrated by the potential shutdown. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said his staff members are likely to work without pay if there is a shutdown.

Salaries of lawmakers and the president are paid automatically without interuption.

But Thompson said he would have voted to forego his pay during a shutdown if the bill had made it to a vote.

“I believe that part of our responsibility is to minimize chaos, and I’m not sure that all the new folks here agree with that,” Thompson said. “A chaotic situation is bad for everything. It’s bad for people trying to get Medicare, it’s bad for people trying to sign up for Social Security, it’s bad for the business climate … it’s just not a good way to run our government.”

Planes will still be directed to safely land at airports. The Federal Aviation Administration plans to retain all the employees necessary to keep national airspace operating safely, but some of that division’s functions would be suspended, including aircraft certification and most budget and administrative activities, a spokesman said.

Health-related programs that assist veterans through the Department of Veteran Affairs would operate without disruption.

The Rohnert Park office, which provides readjustment counseling for combat veterans, will stay open, said Robert Fisher, office manager.

“Veterans affairs in Sonoma County is part of the hospital, so we’re considered essential,” Fisher said.

The Santa Rosa Clinic, which provides an array of medical and mental health services and employs more than 90 people, also will stay open, according to spokeswoman Judy Cheari.

Boaters off Bodega Bay can rest assured that Coast Guard stations will be operating no matter what.

“As a military organization, all of our search and rescue, law enforcement, and environmental response missions should continue as normal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rick Foster.

The 300 employees at the Coast Guard Training Center in Petaluma also will continue working, said Patrick Montgomery, Coast Guard public affairs officer.

He said he did not know whether their paychecks would be delayed.

The Agriculture Department office in Petaluma will close if there is a shutdown, said Lisa Velasquez, county executive director.

Two employees would be sent home without pay, and their program that provides financial aid to farmers hit by intense weather in 2009 would be delayed.

“The longer it goes, the worse it will be,” Velasquez said.

A janitor in the federal building on Sonoma Avenue was resigned to leave her fate in the hands of a higher power.

“If that happens, I just go along with God, and I don’t stress out,” she said. “It’s pretty scary though.”

16 Responses to “Federal workers brace for government shutdown”

  1. Greg Karraker says:

    I applaud both halves of Congress for facing the harsh realities of 2011, and deciding exactly which 99% of the Federal budget to keep intact.

  2. BigDogatPlay says:

    TheObserver opined:

    The Democrats’ legacy? Solvency. Let’s not forget that when Clinton was in office, this country had no deficit and was in the black…

    Really? So have you forgotten that Obama more than tripled deficit spending year over year from the final Bush era budget?

    I do not disagree with you that the Republicans in Congress overspent capriciously. But that is nothing compared to what the Democrats did between 2009 and 2010, so if you’re going to make the point you did, you should at least be historically accurate.

    And while Clinton’s legacy of solvency is something to be admired (and I agree) let’s not forget how he got there….. dragged kicking and screaming by a fiscally conscious Republican controlled Congress with some dude named Kasich (now the governor of Ohio) writing a balanced budget bill that Clinton couldn’t veto.

  3. BigDogatPlay says:

    The class warfare rhetoric that keeps springing up in these threads is really amusing.

    Both good and bad news… there apparently won’t be a shutdown. A deal was done and the suits in Congress are busily slapping themselves on the back in congratulation as I write.

    But the real bottom line is simple…. what would happen if the government were forced to “shut down”. According to the government itself, all non-essential services and programs would be suspended until the Congress restored funding. And that begs a rhetorical question.

    If those services that would be suspended really are non-essential to the operation of government, public safety and security, why is government providing those services in the first place?

  4. retribution says:

    Homes on my block: 35
    In last year: 20 lost/vacated

    Last year employed people on my block: 40+
    Today: 20ish

    Cars reposessed: 10

    Abandoned animals: 15

    Homes currently default: 5

    Children living on food stamps: 5 (the rest have left)

    Amount of days I have been furloughed: 15

    Cut in pay: 15%

    Insurance: removed as option from job

    Gas bill: 200%

    Grocery bill: 235%

    This is the reality that our lawmakers have created and to whom we trust to “make sure nothing bad happens” to us. Yet none of the above statistics include them – this is no one’s fault but our own – we do not care enough to get upset and “storm the castle” so in essence this is us letting them get away with it.

  5. Jim says:


    Did I miss something, or has Ozbama had more than enough time to end the wars we are engaged in?

  6. TheObserver says:

    @ Mockingbird…

    …great post. And let me add that Republicans created this deficit by:

    1. cutting taxes, and exponentially increasing spending when they were in power in the Bush years (remember their slogan “starve the beast?”). It is true and well documented that Republicans are the biggest spenders when it comes to government, not democrats.
    2. unravelling all regulation so as to allow speculative activity where it ought not to be allowed and creating bubbles in Silicon Valley and in housing; and setting the stage for the Enron and banking scandals through deregulation.
    3. getting into war after war after war after war and making us paying trillions for them, not to mention making young men and women die in those useless wars.
    4. not bothering to secure our borders becase the business lobby wants cheap labor.
    5. using those smokescreen social issues as a way to get elected and to keep the sheep in an emotional state of frenzy so they won’t focus on real issues like the competent management of government.
    6. destroying education, beginning in California with Ronald Reagan and Howard Jarvis.
    7. dismanteling all social safety nets or greatly weakening them.
    8. allowing shameful conflicts of interest to exist – like Dick Cheney and Halliburton.
    9. bailing out companies they should have let go down with TAX DOLLARS…there should be no more BofA, or Goldman Sachs, or J.P. Morgan/Chase. Those ugly names should have been deleted from our memory.

    The Democrats’ legacy? Solvency. Let’s not forget that when Clinton was in office, this country had no deficit and was in the black…

    …republicans, on the other hand, are the most fiscally irresponsible people imaginable. Their financial management of this country is a disgrace to the entire world. I wouldn’t trust them with a nickel of my own money.

  7. Reality Check says:

    In most cases, the difference between the financially well off and those who aren’t is the simple act of working and saving.

    Oh, it helps to stay married, take a pass on drugs and gambling, etc. But for most people simply working and saving a little will result in a comfortable retirement.

    The rich vs. poor demagoguery may appeal to some, but most people know better. America remains a land of opportunity. The world’s poor still want to come. What more evidence does one need how lucky we are?

  8. Just Me says:

    ALL Elected and Appointed Officials and the next ten layers of Management below them should go without pay and benefits until the deficit is out of the red and well into the black.

    These are Public SERVANTS! Let these Execs volunteer a while and you will see exactly how fast this money problem is resolved. After their term is up, they are to go home and back to their original career – and not politics or political offices.

    Leave the worker bees alone who are barely making ends meet now. If you cut their pay, they lose their housing and become yet another statistic on unemployment and welfare, another ward of the State and Federal Elite.

  9. Just Me says:

    Hey Mockingbird, how is Libya the Republicans fault? Obama did that one all by himself…illegally!

  10. GAJ says:

    You don’t have to be rich to invest in stocks that pay dividends; what a ridiculous statement.

    Time for a VAT aimed at paying down our huge debt as well as some severe cuts to spending.

    We cannot pass the pain on to future generations when it is us that created this mess.

  11. bear says:

    BTW Mockingbird – outstanding post. I agree with every word.

  12. bear says:

    Rich people – the kind who collect stock dividends and pay 15% in taxes – just love you folks.

    For my part, they could shut down all government at all levels and you could fend for yourselves.

    If you’re already doing that, could you have made bad personal choices that affect your political views?

  13. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    For you who believe the Republicans rhetoric about this being a spending problem you need to pay more attention. This is about social programs and controlling the lives of the American people. They scream about gun control but they care not about women’s health. All they have to do is to use the word abortion to get votes. That’s the irony here. They are all about the fetuses but once the child is born they cut education, child heath and welfare programs. It makes absolutely no sense.

    Planned Parenthood screens women for cancer, provides physicals, counseling and birth control. What exactly is wrong with the Republicans that they hate women and children in particular? Only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does involves abortion and they don’t use federal money to provide it.

    Everytime they come close to an agreement the Republicans throw in some other social issue into the mix WHICH REALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BUDGET. As far as I’m concerned this is extortion pure and simple.

    As for the troops not getting paid, that is the Republicans at fault. We need our troops to come home. Those 4 WARS (Afganistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya)we are fighting currently are costing us TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS THAT SHOULD BE USED DOMESTICALLY. We need to bring our troops home. But you can bet the reason we’re in the middle east is billion dollar contracts with big corporations, oil, and other mineral rights.

    If the Republicans were really fiscal conservatives they would focus on the budget. They wouldn’t have continued the 2 Bush tax breaks for the rich that have helped put us in this deficit hole and put people out of work. And they would be looking at targeting spending to putting people to work. Jobs are the only answer to the deficit, and the big corporations are sitting on TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS instead of investing them in America.

  14. On To Truth & Justice says:

    It is too bad Woolsey and Pelosi will continue to draw a paycheck if there is a federal shutdown. The very people who will not agree with reasonable cuts which have to be made will continue to go along just like nothing ever happened. And they voted for the Obama spending which gave us nothing but drove up and continue to drive up the national debt, kill jobs and depress the economy.

    It is time for change and a big one in the way this Obama government spends our tax dollars and borrows trillions from China. Something has to happen to stop the insanity.

    If it isn’t fixed soon it will take 3 million Obama dollars to buy bread. Who knows what a beer will cost?

  15. FUBAR says:

    Headline should read… “What if the government shutdown and nobody noticed?”

  16. GreedBreeds says:

    Wow! Leave it up to God? Good luck lady, you are going to need it.