Local Politics

Monday, Sep 30 2013 05:39 PM

Government shutdown will impact 10,000 local jobs

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    By U.S. Air Force photo/Chad Bellay

    Staff Sgt. Jonathan Young, with the 412th Maintenance Group, prepares to upload the X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle to a B-52 for fit testing at Edwards Air Force Base on July 17. The government shutdown is expected to impact jobs at the base.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

As many as 10,000 Kern County workers stand to be furloughed in the federal government shutdown.

Kern County has 10,200 federal employees, of whom only 2,800 work for a federal agency other than the Department of Defense, according to the California Employment Development Department.

But while active military personnel will continue working, most of the Defense Department workers here are not active military.

The majority of Edwards Air Force Base employees — 8,500 of them — are civilians who will be sent home without pay. The remaining 2,100 are military personnel.

Military workers will also be without a paycheck — but are required to be on duty, pay or no pay — said Jet Fabara, public affairs specialist at Edwards Air Force Base.

“Our military personnel are not subject to furlough,” he said. “Military and essential civilians will continue to work but will not receive pay until Congress resumes appropriations.”

Benefits continue for workers, Fabara said, but back pay for work done during the shutdown would have to be specifically authorized in any future appropriations bill.

Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason, former commanding officer at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station in Ridgecrest, said cuts to Department of Defense spending can do a lot of damage quickly to eastern Kern County.

“If the government shuts down, we expect 300 workers to be furloughed at China Lake — not including contractors,” Gleason said.

Most of the other employees are paid under a system that will allow them to keep working.

But even a partial shutdown will be a major problem, he said. When China Lake had to take a handful of furlough days during federal budget sequestration, it “had a huge impact in Ridgecrest,” Gleason said.

A lingering shutdown will have massive impacts, he said.

“Our economy in Ridgecrest — and the whole of eastern Kern —  is driven by a single engine. And that’s the Department of Defense,” Gleason said. “We’re a one-horse town.”

Still, he said, he held out hope that a last-minute deal would be brokered.

“I’m hopeful that they resolve the issue before midnight,” he said earlier Monday. “But even if they don’t, they need to get off their butt and get it done.”

Kern County will see other impacts with a government shutdown.

The Bakersfield field office of the Bureau of Land Management will shut down, said agency spokesman David Christy, with only a fraction of the office’s workers still on the job.

The office’s staff ranges from wildlife biologists, park managers and archeologists to fire personnel, law enforcement officers and petroleum engineers.

While the law enforcement officers will remain on duty, and some of the “fire response” staff will be on the job, most of the others will be at home — including the petroleum engineers, Christy said.

“People will be on call in the petroleum sector for inspections and emergencies,” he said.

Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument face closure just like other federal tourist meccas, such as Yosemite National Park.

Bakersfield’s federal courthouse will remain open, said Marianne Matherly, clerk of the federal court for the Eastern District of California — for the first 10 days. Courts have fee money and other resources to bridge the gap. But after that window, courts could face closure, she said.

And if the shutdown is prolonged, the impact would go beyond federal employees and begin to hurt across lower levels of government as programs that federal dollars pay for fail to see paychecks of their own.

Kern County operations that are supported by federal funds or grants — such as the Kern County Sheriff's Office, Kern County Fire Department and the Kern County Department of Human Services — face impacts if the shutdown extends past 30 days, said Nancy Lawson, Kern County’s assistant administrative officer for budget and finance.

But, in the short term, the county will be able to handle things, she said. It’s accustomed to waiting for the federal government to send checks.

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