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Govt. shutdown affects about dozen employees at USDA Service Center PDF Print E-mail

By Jan Schultz
The Imperial Republican

Gene Heathers was mowing his lawn Tuesday afternoon.
Carma Hartman said she was doing things around the house.
And, Andy Keep was taking advantage of the nice midweek weather to get some yard and home maintenance jobs tackled.
All three of the Imperial and Champion residents are among about 12 employees whose jobs at the USDA Service Center on East 5th St., are affected by the federal government shutdown that hit Tuesday.
As the second day of the shutdown came Wednesday, it appeared U.S. House and Senate members were nowhere on a compromise to fund the federal government for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
That meant about 800,000 federal workers, considered “non-essential,” remained at home.
Keep, the District Conservationist for Chase, Dundy and Perkins Counties who works out of the Imperial office, said staff in the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office here worked about three hours Tuesday to complete shutdown procedures before going home.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to Keep that the shutdown did happen.
He said they had a teleconference on Monday during which staff was given directions for a shutdown plan.
“We were directed to show up Tuesday either to do the shutdown” or operate business as usual if something was passed, Keep said.
It didn’t, so they are at home.
Hartman, a program technician in the Farm Service Agency (FSA) office at the service center, said it was pretty clear on Monday the shutdown would happen.
She is one of four full-time employees in the FSA office, which includes FSA County Executive Director Linda Feg­ler who lives in Benkelman and serves both Chase and Dundy Counties.
The NRCS site here offices five full-time workers, Keep said, including State Range Management Specialist Nadine Bishop, one contract employee, two NRD secretaries and a Farm Bill wildlife biologist (the latter whose job is affected about 80% by the shutdown).
Keep replaced Bishop as District Conservationist and has been on the job just over a year.
He said he has no idea when they might return to work.        “We want to go to work, we do a good job for a lot of people,” he said Wednesday.
Keep said this is a fairly busy time for their office as the fiscal year begins, and they’ve been working on contracts and agreements with landowners.
None of the employees visited with had much to say about the future.
Heathers, a civil engineering technician at NRCS, said he’s concerned because their pay during the furlough is not guaranteed.
“We’re off duty and off pay,” he said.
“I just hope it’s not too long. There are a lot of unknowns.”  
When do they officially know when to return?
“We were directed to watch the news,” Keep said.
He and Nadine Bishop added they also were told to check the Office of Personnel Management website for updates.
Callers to the USDA Service Center here are answered by a recorded message that says due to the lapse in federal government funding they are on furlough and not in the office at this time.
Callers are asked to leave a voice message, but are told employees have no access to email or voicemail.    
“We look forward to returning your message once funding is restored,” the message concludes.