Note: This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.
The National Park Service will not provide visitor services during the partial government shutdown that started Friday night, and that could affect programs in Oak Ridge and other national parks in the area. But Manhattan Project Park locations at three sites, including Oak Ridge, will remain open to the public and continue to provide visitor services.
Oak Ridge is part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which is part of the National Park Service. The park, which is about three years old, commemorates the Manhattan Project, a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II. Besides Oak Ridge, two other sites are part of the park: Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
In Oak Ridge, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is based at the Children’s Museum on West Outer Drive. The park includes programs such as historical films, celebrations, and programs, and informative hikes and bicycle rides with rangers.
The National Park Service did not respond to two inquiries this week, but a program scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Oak Ridge will presumably be canceled. That program was intended to discuss secrecy, security, and spies during the Manhattan Project. It was scheduled for this afternoon (Saturday, December 22) at the Turnpike Gatehouse in west Oak Ridge.
“Effective immediately upon a lapse in appropriations, the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to suspend all activities and secure national park facilities that operate using appropriations that are now lapsed, except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,” the NPS said in a contingency plan posted online.
Parks will not be operated during the shutdown, the NPS said, and no visitor services will be provided. That means no educational programs, trash collection, restroom operations, road maintenance, or visitor information.
NPS social media and websites are not being monitored or updated, and they may not reflect current conditions during the shutdown. All park programs have been canceled, according to a press release from Kris Kirby, superintendent of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Denver.
However, Manhattan Project Park locations in Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos will remain open to the public and continue to provide visitor services, Kirby said. Those locations include the Childrens Museum of Oak Ridge and American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge, the Bradbury Science Museum and Los Alamos History Museum in Los Alamos, and the park visitor center in Hanford. Those locations are operated by other organizations or through contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy, which is not affected by the shutdown.
The partial shutdown occurred after Congress and President Donald Trump were not able to agree this week on whether to include about $5 billion for a wall on the Mexican border in spending legislation. It’s not clear how or when the standoff might be resolved.
In the meantime, some federal employees will be furloughed, and others will work without pay, including local agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The New York Times reported that the partial shutdown will not affect core governmental functions like the Postal Service, the U.S. military, Department of Veterans Affairs, and entitlement programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.
But about 380,000 workers at nine of 15 cabinet-level departments will be sent home and will not be paid for the time off, the New York Times reported. Another 420,000 deemed too essential to be furloughed will be forced to work without pay, the newspaper said. After past shutdowns, such workers have been reimbursed later.
The departments affected by the partial shutdown include:
- Commerce, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has operations on South Illinois Avenue in Oak Ridge;
- Homeland Security;
- Housing and Urban Development;
- Interior, which includes national parks and the U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes, among other activities (earthquakes have been a recent topic of interest in East Tennessee);
- Justice, which includes the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. attorney’s offices, such as those in Knoxville;
- Transportation; and
NASA would also be hit, according to the New York Times.
There appear to generally be exceptions for workers in operations that involve national security and public safety—and other endeavors such as ongoing maintenance, information technology support, airport screening, and satellite command and control, to cite some examples—although those employees will apparently not be paid until funding is appropriated when the shutdown ends.
The U.S. Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration, which have major sites in Oak Ridge, are not affected.
”The partial government shutdown does not impact Department of Energy facilities,” federal officials said in a statement. “DOE’s fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill was approved by Congress and signed by the president in September. DOE employees and contractors are expected to continue to report to work according to their usual work schedule.”
Other national parks in the area include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Here’s a notice posted by the National Park Service: “During the federal government shutdown…some national parks may remain accessible to visitors; however, access may change without notice. Some parks are closed completely. Some visitor services may be available when provide by concessioners or other entities. For most parks, there will be no National Park Service-provided visitor services, such as restrooms, trash collection, facilities, or road maintenance.”
In a September contingency plan, the U.S. Geological Survey said a shutdown would lead to the suspension of the majority of its activities, except those necessary to protect life and property. The National Earthquake Information Center would be one of two excepted activities, but excepted employees would only work the hours required to respond to a situation, the contingency plan said.
You can read the National Park Service shutdown contingency plan here.
You can read the U.S. Geological Survey contingency plan here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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