Trickle-down effect of the federal shutdown


Tuesday morning at the High Country News office began with a flurry of Twitter messages from federal agencies as they entered a social media blackout. Until some undetermined future, it will be radio silence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EPA, NASA and the National Science Foundation. Websites will not be updated; apparently in an effort to avoid spreading misinformation, the National Park Service, BLM and Census Bureau simply took down their sites. In addition to breaks in communication, many government services are coming to a lurching halt.

The shutdown is making it difficult for us and other journalists to do our jobs, since we often rely on federal sources for information. Here’s a look at the shutdown's impact on some of the government agencies most important to Westerners.

Kings Canyon National Park blocks access as it, and all the national parks, close during the federal shutdown.

Tourism Economics

The Department of the Interior is one of the hardest hit agencies, furloughing 81 percent of its employees. The DOI oversees the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs, to name a few.

Across the country, 401 national parks, monuments and historic sites are closed. Campers at Yosemite were given 48 hours to pack up and go. School groups planning a field trip to the Washington Monument and hunters and anglers preparing to head to certain BLM lands will have to change their plans.

It’s a bummer for visitors, and a revenue loss for the government. The National Park Service will lose about $450,000 each day from entrance fees, cave tours, boat rides and camping that won’t be happening. But it’s not just the loss in park revenue that will hurt. Communities around the parks that cater to tourism will collectively lose about $76 million per day.

For communities hammered with summer setbacks, the government shutdown hits at a particularly bad time. As Yosemite National Park evacuated visitors this summer during the Rim Fire, bordering communities watched tourism plummet. Shortly after, Estes Park, which borders Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, experienced the same thing during the September floods. In both regions, this fall could have been prime time to recover some economic losses, but with the major public attractions closed, visitors will likely vacation somewhere else.

The last federal shutdown, in 1995, sparked fury in people who lost access to the national parks and caused “long-term damage” to gateway communities.

Whether or not FEMA will continue work and funding for Colorado’s post-flood cleanup is a question that has some Front Range residents worried. Vice President Joe Biden has promised that relief aid would keep flowing, and FEMA workers are still on the ground, but it’s thin assurance. Governor Hinkenlooper announced on Tuesday that the state would kick in emergency funds to keep National Guard to fill in any federal gaps.

Science and Research

Most scientific research funded by the federal government is being suspended. From environmental data being collected on public lands to health initiatives covered by the National Institutes of Health, projects are on hold, which could have some significant impacts for continuity of data.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has six research sites that collect air samples to measure greenhouse gases. According to Nature, those samples will continue to be collected, but the scientists in Boulder, Colo. who make sense of the samples were sent home.

Medical research, disease tracking and environmental surveys are some of the science projects on hold during the shutdown.

And just like NOAA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shuttered a lot of their research. Now is not the time to get the flu or come home with a tropical disease. The CDC is suspending influenza tracking – just as flu season begins – and won’t be available for research on emerging infectious diseases.

Even if the research isn’t paid for by the federal government or conducted by a federal agency, many people rely on government-supplied data. But, one of the Fed’s initiatives toward open and transparent government, is down. Applications and research using the information are accordingly offline. Journalists looking for census data, health statistics or food stamp expenditures will have trouble finding the information.


America’s Native communities are impacted as well and in ways that worry tribal leaders. Many tribal communities struggle with poverty and live on the edge of subsistence, says Edward Thomas, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Indian Country Today. Reductions in the federal services and funding members rely on will have an acute, “devastating” effect on tribes.

Statements from Washington D.C. say that services central to human health and safety will keep running. But in the face of a prolonged shutdown, the Indian Health Services would be able to provide only the most urgent medical care. Meanwhile, tribal colleges and head start programs will suffer, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly told The Daily Times.

The impacts of the government shutdown are drastic and immediate, both for “non-essential” government employees and their families, and for communities and research that depend on federal funding. The impacts will also continue to show up in more insidious ways with gaps in research monitoring and development, links to data that are temporarily down, and all the myriad problems created when an "open" government closes its doors.

Katie Mast is an editorial intern at High Country News. Photo of Kings Canyon courtesy National Parks Conservation Association. Image of researcher courtesy National Institutes of Health Library.

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