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Federal Workers In Limbo During Government Shutdown


Turning back now to the partial government shutdown - for thousands of federal employees and federal contractors, the shutdown that began late Friday night is creating serious uncertainty just days before Christmas. As NPR's Bobby Allyn reports and as we just discussed, President Trump and leaders of the House and Senate cannot agree on funding for Trump's promised border wall, and the stalemate is quickly rippling across all aspects of life in the nation's capital.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Like most Saturdays, tour guide Monte Montgomery is walking a small group around all the sights of Washington, D.C., explaining the history of buildings and monuments on this blustery day.

MONTE MONTGOMERY: Right in front of us, you will see the Ulysses Grant statue there. It's a complex of statues there. Ulysses Grant, he was a general. And he was the president after the Civil War.

ALLYN: But the partial government shutdown affecting more than 800,000 workers is even making life more complicated for Montgomery. He's reinventing the tour on the fly since some of the buildings he planned to visit have locked doors.

MONTGOMERY: These are tourists that came from California and Colorado. They planned this trip, I am sure, for months. And they pay for these tours, and they pay high price. And then we go to the National Archives, and all of a sudden, it's shut down. We can't get in.

ALLYN: This is the third government shutdown this year. Unlike past ones, some work will be unaffected. The Postal Service is still delivering mail. Social Security checks are still being sent. But nearly 400,000 employees will be furloughed. And hundreds of thousands more doing jobs deemed essential may have to work without pay.

PAUL MARCH: This city and the neighboring areas are full of federal contractors and government employees who work with the agencies.

ALLYN: That's Paul March. He's a Washington resident and works in the private sector doing tax planning for corporations. And he has some federal contracts. He's hearing jitters from his colleagues.

MARCH: So there's a lot of people who are either, like, struggling to get their job done or not working because the agencies that they're supposed to be working with are closed right now. It's a pretty big hit, I would say.

ALLYN: One of the agencies expecting the largest hit - the Department of Homeland Security. For instance, the 60,000 employees at Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, will be working without pay. Peter Clemens is an intelligence analyst at DHS and manages 120 employees. And he says the border wall fight is sending a jolt through his department.

PETER CLEMENS: Ironically, you know, these are people that are either at the airports doing screening operations or on the border, they're doing CBP operations. So right, they're technically working at risk.

ALLYN: Clemens says some of his employees had taken vacation time through Christmas. Those plans might just go out the window.

CLEMENS: Well, what if you had a cruise scheduled? What if you had a plane ticket? You just don't know, really, what's going to happen.

ALLYN: If, as expected, the shutdown continues past Wednesday, Clemens says he'll be making some uncomfortable phone calls.

CLEMENS: Unfortunately, we're going to have to tell them, you need to come back to work.

ALLYN: Meanwhile, for people like Edith Blume, both professional and personal plans have suddenly become dicey. Blume works in human resources for a private company that does business with the government. Since the shutdown started late Friday, her inbox has been inundated with concerned messages.

EDITH BLUME: A good number of our contracts are government contracts. So it's a wait-and-see game for us. You know, we can't rest easy ourselves.

ALLYN: Blume, who didn't like Trump before the shutdown, says her opinion of the president is now even worse.

BLUME: No. 45 doesn't care about anybody but himself. And it's disgusting, and I'm fed up.

ALLYN: As Blume fumes, some, like Keith Nix, are feeling proud. He's visiting Washington from north Florida. Nix voted for Trump and said border security is important to him as a Trump supporter.

KEITH NIX: They need to fund that wall.

ALLYN: Nix says he wants to see the border wall built no matter what it takes.

NIX: I think we should keep out illegal immigrants, I really do.

ALLYN: The Senate adjourned Saturday with no solution and no plans to vote again until after Christmas.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Washington.


Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.