The lights are off and a closed sign is scotch taped to the door of the Federal Building in downtown Petersburg. Jason Anderson, U.S. District Ranger, is the lone occupant. On Tuesday, he looked as if he had come into the office during time off, garbed in hiking pants and a black t-shirt rather than a forest service uniform. But his desk was stacked with piles of papers looking very much as if there is still work to be done.
“We were told not to spend a lot of time finalizing other project work because technically we’re not authorized to do so,” Anderson said. “There’s no provision in law that says ‘just do a little bit of work.’ Today was just focused on the shut down process.”
His is one of 70 positions in the Petersburg area that are furloughed since congress failed to prevent the government shut down. Tuesday morning was spent closing out time and attendance records and other administrative duties. Anderson said almost everybody was gone by noon.
“Most of us will definitely feel the crunch of not being paid,” Anderson said. “That’s probably on the back of everybody’s mind in the office. That’s sort of the risk of being a public servant. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out in the long-run.”
Despite Anderson’s non-pay status he and a few others still have to show up to provide “essential services.” The US Forest Service outlines ten activities in its contingency close down procedures. Law enforcement officials, firefighters and dispatchers still need to be available for fires, natural disasters and other emergencies.
Yesterday Anderson had to fly out to winterize and close early a remote administrative facility in Rowan Bay—the fear being if the furlough persists they won’t be able to access the site and pipes would freeze along with other damages.
Other than the closure, Anderson intends to check out public facilities and complete minutia tasks in the office.
“For me to sit in here and get work done technically isn’t the intent of having a position on standby like I am but I can’t just sit here and do nothing either,” Anderson said. “I’ll get caught up on some background reading, make sure I’m responsive to whatever pops up. Hopefully this thing won’t last for very long.”
The forest service’s day use facilities and campgrounds will remain open. But the federal reservation system for reserving cabins and campgrounds will close. Anderson said existing reservations are fine but making new ones may not be possible.
The shutdown has also forced logging operations to creep along at the Tonka site. Felling and transporting logs to the sort yard is still ongoing. But Anderson said anything associated with accountability such as barging or trucking the wood offsite has stopped.
“If this (furlough) persists for a longer period of time we may have to shut down operations,” Anderson said.
In the meantime Anderson will show up for work. The borough assembly requested that he attend its next meeting to discuss how federal guidelines influence herbicide and pesticide spray operations as it considers drafting an ordinance in its dealings with the state of Alaska. Anderson will show up for that too.
“At some point I may have to communicate with my boss and just say ‘Hey, if I don’t have anything else left to do here I should be going home’,” Anderson said. “I’d love to think that we could open the doors and provide some level of service but I think they’re very clearly saying ‘Nope. We don’t do that during a shutdown.’”