By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 2, 2013
Updated: Oct. 3, 2013 at 10:44 a.m.
Tourists traveling to see Charleston’s national historic sites will have to reschedule.
About 120 people took a tour of Charleston Harbor aboard the Fort Sumter Tours boat Tuesday — sans the Fort Sumter stop. The historic site is closed as of Tuesday because of the government shutdown. That was a fraction of the company’s average of 800 visitors each day. As of press time today, the tours had seen two visitors.
Tours to Fort Sumter are among many functions of agencies locally that have been halted as a result of the government shutdown. (Photo/Liz Segrist)
“If this holds the rest of the day, we will be shutting down those boats altogether,” said Fort Sumter Tours co-partner Rick Mosteller, who noted that Spiritline Cruises will continue without interruption.
The federal government is in Day 2 of its first shutdown since 1996. Congress failed to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution bill, which would have funded federal agencies in lieu of an official budget, and effectively shut down the government. At least part of the cause is the ongoing fight in Congress to defund the Affordable Care Act, raise the debt ceiling and pass a budget for the next fiscal year.
Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody’s Analytics, said in testimony before Congress that a shutdown lasting four weeks could reduce fourth-quarter gross domestic product by 1.4 percentage points.
Business at all federally funded agencies has been halted, or it has been slowed for those agencies with additional funding from other sources. An estimated 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed nationwide.
Tourist attractions and parks are closed. Federal agencies doing environmental, clinical trial or health research, as well as defense work, have locked their doors and posted notices on their websites.
National agencies with local offices have put their work on hold, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hollings Marine Lab, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Due to the lapse in appropriated funds, all public lands managed by the Interior Department (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management facilities, etc.) will be closed,” says a note on the Department of the Interior’s website.
Some federal agencies have enough money left over from budgets or from fully funded projects to hold them over for a few days or even months.
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, a defense contractor, employs more than 2,600 people in Charleston. Locally, 35 employees will be furloughed, all of which are interns. Of SPAWAR’s entire 4,100 employees, 216 mission-funded employees and 43 interns will be furloughed.
“At this time, furloughs won't apply to the majority of the employees for SSC Atlantic as we are a Navy Working Capital Fund (NWCF). NWCFs are able to continue operating as long as they maintain a positive cash balance. If the government is shut down for an extended period of time, the situation will be reassessed,” said Thomas Groves, SPAWAR’s public affairs officer in Charleston.
The voicemail message at SPAWAR’s corporate public affairs office says: “I am unable to take your call or assist you further at the moment due to government furlough and shutdown as of Oct. 1, 2013. When all is resolved, I look forward to getting back to you and working with you.”
The Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District’s employees will receive salaries through Friday as a result of excess funds from fiscal year 2013, said Glenn Jeffries, its corporate communications chief. If the shutdown continues past Friday, furloughs will begin.
“Based on ‘excepted’ activities and an assessment of available funding, we are largely protected from furloughs this week,” said Lt. Col. John T. Litz, Charleston District commander for the Army Corps. “Although we look pretty good for this week, the impact of this shutdown is dynamic. As the shutdown continues and we begin to exhaust available funding, employees will be furloughed.”
The Corps of Engineers is unique among federal agencies in that it is funded mostly through individual projects that carry over from year to year.
Charleston Harbor Post-45, the Army Corps’ project to assess the potential deepening of Charleston Harbor, has enough funding for employees to continue work for several months, Jeffries said.
District leadership will assess the situation on a daily basis. According to a news release, if the shutdown continues into next week, the public will begin to see the effects, predominantly in the Regulatory Division, which processes permits, conducts jurisdictional determinations and issues public notices.
As for Fort Sumter Tours’ 50 employees, some will be put to work on maintenance jobs, and salaried employees will not be affected; but the majority of the company’s hourly employees will be put on furlough.
“Without tourists, we won’t have a need for ticket salespeople. Our hourly employees will be impacted, and they will be impacted pretty severely depending on how long this lasts,” Mosteller said.
Some of the tourists traveled internationally to see the site and were “very, very disappointed,” Mosteller said.
“We’re losing a lot of revenue. The shutdown is impacting our company’s bottom line,” Mosteller said. “Hopefully, reasonable minds will prevail soon, and if that happens, if this thing can be resolved in the next week or so, our people won’t lose too many hours.”
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Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.