American military personnel will be able to watch the NFL’s conference championship games Sunday despite the government shutdown, thanks to a new designation concerning the American Forces Network.
On Sunday morning, with the NFL scrambling to supply the games to troops overseas, the Department of Defense designated TV and radio broadcasts the AFN, whose key personnel were to be furloughed by the shutdown, “essential activities.”
“Despite the government shutdown, DoD determined the operational necessity of television and radio broadcasts constitutes them as essential activities,” Dana W. White, chief spokesperson for the DoD, said in a statement. “We will continue to find solutions to support our troops at home and abroad. Congress must come to a resolution, support our troops and pass a budget soon.”
The NFL had announced that it would provide access to its streaming service, NFL Game Pass, at United Service Organizations facilities worldwide, an NFL spokesperson said Saturday afternoon, and was exploring other means by which troops could watch the games between the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars at 3:05 p.m. EST on CBS and Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles at 6:40 p.m. EST on Fox.
AFN programming relies entirely on civilian government employees, who were furloughed at midnight Saturday. Sports broadcasting had not been deemed an essential activity and was stopped to comply with the shutdown.
According to White, uniform leadership at AFN, the comptroller and legal team were able to turn on a channel based on operational necessity and because funds had already been paid on the contract. The first channel is news and the second is sports, which can be run with minimal staffing that complies with the shutdown by not incurring any extra cost or personnel.
USO facilities were to cover some, but not all, military personnel looking for NFL action. The facilities are common on military installations, but some locations, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, may not have access to the high-speed Internet necessary to stream the games.
Other military installations, such as Navy ships, may have access to AFN but not a USO outpost. The AFN is commonly the only portal for servicepeople to access American television while stationed abroad.
Talks aimed at ending the shutdown are continuing, with this shutdown the first furlough of federal employees under single-party control of Congress and the White House. It does not appear the shutdown will affect security preparations for the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.
“FBI operations are directed towards national security and violations of federal law, and must be able to continue during a lapse in appropriations,” the FBI said in a statement. “As such, all FBI agents and support personnel in field offices are considered excepted from furlough.”
That includes agents working on Super Bowl security checks and counterterrorism measures, said James J. Wedick, a retired FBI agent of three decades and a security consultant. He worked through the 1995 government shutdown and said the bureau’s day-to-day operations are virtually indistinguishable from when federal agencies are funded.
“What will be disappointing to some degree is that it will affect other [parts] of government,” he said. “So if we’re [the FBI] relying on something, we might have to extend additional resources because something we were counting on isn’t there anymore.”
Mark Maske and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.