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The government shutdown: What's open, what's not?

The U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset in Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2013.
The U.S. Capitol is seen at sunset in Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2013.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

It happened. Congress couldn't agree on a temporary funding measure by midnight Monday, and the government officially began shutting down Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. — though not every agency will lock its doors. Those considered essential — or "exempted" — will still be on the job. 

But which ones?

Federal employees were to be officially notified Friday afternoon if they should go to work on Tuesday in the event of a shutdown. 

Which agencies and services will be affected?

RELATED: What does government shutdown mean for you?


IRS — The bad news: if you’re filing a quarterly return and have questions, or if you’re waiting for a refund, you’ll have to wait until the government is open for business again. The good news: if you’re being audited, you’ll get a reprieve until the government is back in business again (according to the 2011 contingency plan).

National Parks — Got a hankering to go hiking? Not this week. Both Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve will be shut down and the gates closed. Campers will be notified to make alternate arrangements and leave the park. (Read more.)

International Travel — If your passport has expired or you're applying for a visa, you'll be waiting a bit longer. If it makes you feel any better, you're in good company: the State Department processes nearly a half million requests for these documents every week.

What if there’s an earthquake? — The Pasadena office of the U.S. Geological Survey will be closed. CalTech will be on the job, as will the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado. So what happens if there's a major earthquake in California? Who will local TV stations turn to if Lucy Jones isn’t around to explain what happened? The USGS says Dr. Jones and others will be activated “as needed” and called into the office.  The USGS likens it to folks sitting in the bullpen, waiting for the manager to call them into the game.

Here's what would be OPEN FOR BUSINESS if a shutdown occurs Tuesday:

The U.S. Border — Border Patrol agents will be on the job; U.S. Customs agents will also be working (this, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 2011 plan for what it calls “a federal funding hiatus”).

U.S. Forest Service Firefighters — will be on the job (Read more.)

Federal Courts — Criminal cases will continue without interruption, but civil cases will be “curtailed or postponed to the extent that this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life or the protection of property.” As Presidential appointees, U.S. Attorneys are not subject to furlough.

FBI — Agents will be in the field, and also working will be the folks in the office who provide fingerprint identification and criminal background checks. (Read more.)

DEA Agents — will be on the job.

Federal prison in San Pedro — Sorry, white collar criminals: the guards will still be around, as will medical personnel.

Spies — the CIA will continue its various activities.

LAX/John Wayne/Long Beach/Ontario Airports — Air traffic controllers will stay on the job and TSA agents will still be there to remind you to take off your belt and shoes.

Camp Pendleton, Naval Weapons Station, Seal Beach — According to the House Armed Services Committee, the bases would remain open, but services such as the commissaries would be closed. The Pentagon says it will furlough half of its civilian workforce. 

Social Security — If you’re currently receiving Social Security benefits, there should be no interruption. The Social Security Trust Fund allows the agency “to perform those activities needed to ensure that benefits are accurately and timely paid, despite a lapse in appropriations.” However, if you lost your Social  Security card or need to apply for one, you’ll have to wait. And if the shutdown lasts several weeks, checks could be delayed by as much as two weeks. (Read more.)

Medicare and Medicaid — Funding continues to pay hospitals and doctors. But like Social Security, an extended shutdown could delay those payments.

Housing — Both the FHA and GNMA, the mortgage wing of the federal government, will stay open. The agencies say "an interruption in the operations would create immediate and significant market disruption that would lead to financial losses for investors and increased mortgage rates for government-insured mortgage loans."

San Onofre — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says inspectors will be on the job since there’s a “reasonable likelihood that the safety of human life or the protection of property would be compromised, in some significant degree, by delay in performance of the function in question.” Government-speak for keeping an eye on nuclear facilities is important, even if the plant is not in operation, as is the case here.

U.S. Postal Service — Neither rain, nor snow, nor fight over the continuing resolution shall keep the mail carrier from bringing you the new issue of “Sports Illustrated.” The USPS is separately funded.


Poor women and children — Funding for food stamps, otherwise known as SNAP (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program), is paid in quarterly installments. The next one is due Tuesday.

Head Start kids — California's Head Start program is the largest in the nation, serving more than 100,000 children. Its $2.1 billion budget comes from both the state and federal government. A shutdown would cut off the portion from the Department of Health and Human Services. State officials can’t say when they’d run out of money.

Veterans — The V.A. will furlough some employees, but it appears both its benefit and health services will be adequately staffed. However, if you are a family member of a deceased vet, you may have to wait for a headstone or grave marker. On Friday, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs told Congress that benefit checks could stop coming in two weeks when the agency runs out of money. (Read more.)

Who decides these things?

Back in 1980, the U.S. Justice Department said only some government agencies can stay open without funds. The Office of Management and Budget took it one step further, saying those who keep coming to work provide "essential" services.

White House memo on potential shutdown by scprweb

This story has been updated.