Shutdown tales of the unexpected

October 25, 2013
National Park Service personnel remove the barricades from the World war II Memorial as the government reopens Thursday. (Astrid Riecken/Washington Post).
National Park Service personnel remove the barricades from the World War II Memorial as the government reopens Thursday. (Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post)

The impacts of the 16-day government shutdown went well beyond the much-publicized work stoppages and furloughs for federal employees and contractors.

The Federal Eye this week offered readers an opportunity to share their experiences with unexpected effects, inspired by a diabetes foundation that said it canceled a fundraising ride in Death Valley, Calif., because the national park there was closed.

Below are a few examples of what we heard from our survey respondents:

Michigan realtor Kimberly Webb estimated that some 80 percent of potential buyers backed out of their searches for new homes “the minute there were discussions on TV of a government shutdown.”

“The only buyers who continued to look were those purchasing with cash or looking for very inexpensive homes — under $50,000,” Webb added. “[Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)] created a secondary real estate shutdown. Many buyers fear we will go through another financial crisis in a few months.”

Joyce Cohen, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, said she could not access source documents that she needed for a paper in her public health class. Those files, including surgeon general’s reports, “disappeared from the Internet,” she said.

“The paper’s due date did not change, so my evidential arguments had to be tweaked in places where I had not taken good notes on the government documents I had previously read,” Cohen added.

Timothy Reyburn of Maryland said he was disappointed not to see the Marine Corps’ precision drill squad that normally performs at the annual Toys for Tots motorcycle ride at Fort Meade. “The Marine drill team missed an event they had been doing yearly for nearly 50 years in a row,” he said.

Many federal workers and contractors mentioned to us during the shutdown that they had reached out to their creditors, notifying them that they may be late with payments due to not having paychecks during the closure. In an interesting twist, one bank actually reached out to federal employees first.

This is from California resident Mariama Meyers:

“I got an email from Chase Bank quite unexpectedly. I saw the email in my inbox and initially cringed (what do they want now?). But when I read it, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a heartfelt letter from Chase informing me — and others who have federal payroll direct-deposited into their banking institutions — that due to the shut down they were suspending all late fees on any loan or credit card that I had with them, including car loans, mortgages, etc. I had to read the email twice to make sure I was reading it right.”

Finally, some readers told us they thought certain shutdown measures were unnecessary. Albert Sutlick, who lives in Washington state, said he was bothered by the shuttering of parks and monuments, which he described as an attempt by the Obama administration to draw attention to shutdown effects.

Here’s what he wrote:

“During this shutdown, it seems that a conscious effort was made to make it as unpleasant for the public as possible. During the previous shutdown in 1996, most lands and monuments remained available to the public unless they had entrance fees associated with them, had open and closed hours, or required staff to oversee. This time an attempt was made to close everything possible, whether there was normally oversight or not, and even if it cost additional to do so. Even informational web sites were closed down, when last time only e-mail was suspended. The whole idea of a web site is to operate without staff.”

We always welcome more insight from our readers, so please keep the stories coming if you have any.

Follow Josh Hicks on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks · October 25, 2013