Tennessee workers brace for federal government shutdown

Thousands of families would lose income. Soldiers and spouses at Fort Campbell would have one less place to buy groceries.

Tourists looking to soak up the fall colors at Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area or Civil War history at Stones River National Battlefield would have to look elsewhere.

But federal courts would continue to operate without interruption, whether workers get paid or not.

A federal government shutdown, which was expected at midnight if Congress failed to come to terms on a spending bill, would cut a wide swath through Tennessee.

President Barack Obama's administration said hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be put on unpaid leave immediately. USA TODAY and The Washington Post estimated that some 800,000 employees would be affected nationwide. Many workers were scheduled to report for duty today but might be sent home before the day is over, not knowing when they'll return.

There are roughly 25,000 federal civilian workers in Tennessee, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

At Fort Campbell, "essential services such as utilities, law enforcement and fire services, hospital emergency room services, and soldier training and operations in direct support of national security and preparation for deployment will not be affected," garrison commander Col. David "Buck" Dellinger said in a news release.

Soldiers and civilian personnel who continued to work would be paid retroactively, the release said. But U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander's office said late Monday afternoon that the Senate had voted to ensure that military personnel "will still receive pay as scheduled" and that the bill would become law with Obama's signature.

Civilians who are furloughed would only be paid retroactively if Congress passed a law for that specific purpose, Fort Campbell spokesman Bob Jenkins said.

Fort Campbell's commissary is expected to shut down Wednesday but will open today to reduce the amount of perishables.

A government shutdown would close all facilities and suspend all services at national parks. At Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, which straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky border, October is typically the busiest month, with 68,000 to 75,000 visitors, said Dave Carney, the park's chief of interpretation and education.

Though the fall colors haven't kicked in yet, "the temperatures are getting very pleasant, so it's nice to be outdoors," Carney said. "It's great camping weather, great hiking weather."

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee and other federal courts will keep doing what they do, though the U.S. Attorney's Office plans to scale back its pursuit of some civil litigation. Clerk of Court Keith Throckmorton said money is available to pay court employees for two weeks. After that, they'll work for free.

"Just because the government shuts down doesn't mean that the constitutional mission of the courts doesn't continue," Throckmorton said.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Monday that he had asked commissioners of state agencies to tell him how each agency would be affected by a shutdown. He criticized elected officials in Washington without singling out either party.

"I don't think it's an appropriate action for the federal government to have gotten to this point," said the Republican governor. "I'm one of those who believes that the federal government has to quit spending way more than it's bringing in, but this is not the way to do that — just to have an arbitrary shutdown of the government that's going to impact services in a nondiscriminate way is not the right way to do it."

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat, shared that frustration.

"It's some of our neighbors we're talking about if government shuts down," he said. "I'm tired of the political grandstanding and theatrics that risk damaging average citizens."


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