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Shutdown impact: Gov't urges furlough compassion

Wednesday - 10/16/2013, 4:26pm  ET

The Associated Press

The government is urging creditors to "remain patient and show compassion" for hundreds of thousands federal workers who remain furloughed without a paycheck.

Some agencies are offering employees a cover letter that explains to creditors that the shutdown is "beyond on our employees' control and they will be returned to pay status as soon as possible."

But financial impact of the shutdown goes far beyond the federal workforce. Local tourism businesses, for example, are losing millions because some national parks are still closed.

And at research centers, some work has stopped. Included in that research: Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh had to suspend a study of how long children with urinary tract infections really needed to take antibiotics.

Researchers are turning away calls from emergency rooms and pediatricians seeking to enroll more of their patients in the study, which if it works could mean fewer side effects for kids -- and possibly decrease antibiotic resistance as well, , said Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, the hospital's vice chairman of research. Why? Furloughed workers at the National Institutes of Health were responsible for some safety oversight.

"This is a setback," he said, saying he feels growing frustration with the shutdown's trickle-down impact. "It could take months or longer" to get back on track.

Among the other services affected by the shutdown:


Federal air traffic controllers remain on the job and airport screeners continue to funnel passengers through security checkpoints. Furloughs of 2,900 Federal Aviation Administration inspectors had put safety oversight of planes, pilots and aircraft repair stations on hold, but the FAA later recalled about 800 employees -- including some inspectors -- to work. The State Department continues processing foreign applications for visas and U.S. applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas remain open and are providing services for U.S. citizens abroad.

Also, about 2,300 of the 18,500 staff originally furloughed by the Department of Transportation have been recalled. Most are FAA engineers, inspectors, and safety staff who provide oversight of aviation parts and airlines. However, other transportation employees were recalled to assist with the emergency response to Tropical Storm Karen. Most of those employees have subsequently been furloughed again.


The National Transportation Safety Board is not investigating most transportation accidents, making an exception only if officials believe lives or property are in danger. The agency suspended 1,500 investigations that were underway before the shutdown. Thirteen recent accidents -- including a bus crash that killed eight people in Tennessee and a battery fire in a Tesla S electric car -- are not being investigated. The board has also turned down several requests from other countries and the State Department for help with aviation accidents outside the U.S. even when U.S.-manufactured planes are involved.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they can handle recalls and high-risk foodborne outbreaks, but discovering them will be more difficult because many of the people who investigate outbreaks have been furloughed. Routine food safety inspections were suspended, so most food manufacturers won't have to worry about periodic visits from government inspectors. U.S. food inspections abroad have also been halted. USDA inspectors are on the lines every day in meatpacking plants and are required to be there by law for the plants to stay open.

Auto recalls and investigations of safety defects have been put on hold during the partial government shutdown. The public can still file safety complaints through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website, but no one has been investigating them in the new fiscal year. Manufacturers can still voluntarily recall vehicles, but major recalls are typically negotiated between the government and automakers.


New patients are generally not being accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, but current patients continue to receive care. NIH has made rare exceptions, about a dozen in the first week of the shutdown, to allow patients with immediately life-threatening illnesses into research studies at its renowned hospital. Normally, about 200 new patients every week enroll in studies at the NIH's research-only hospital, many of them after standard treatments have failed. Medical research at the NIH has been disrupted as some studies have been delayed.

With two-thirds of personnel sent home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been severely limited in spotting or investigating disease outbreaks such as the flu or that mysterious MERS virus from the Middle East. The FDA has halted the review and approval of new medical products and drugs.

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