They agreed to disagree… and for now, that means that the United States government is effectively shutdown until our legislature can agree about how to appropriate money. With more than 800,000 government employees furloughed, which operations will cease or slow? What does this government shutdown mean for travelers, foreign and domestic? Here are some ways travelers may or may not be impacted by the January 2018 U.S. government shutdown.
Passports and Embassies
Have you recently applied for a passport or passport renewal? You may experience a delay in processing, although The Hill reported that passport and consular services are supported by fees so they don’t entirely rely on Congressional funding. Consular services are the ones most travelers hope to not use like passport replacement abroad or what to do in the event of a coup, so let’s be glad to hear that U.S. Embassies are usually operational during government shutdowns.
Active-duty military will still be in normal duty status, according to the Department of Defense. So don’t be surprised to see men and women in uniform when you are at the airport or if traveling near an area they are patrolling. However, military Quality of Life and Family Readiness programs will be impacted.
Your time in the airport security line might feel longer, but it’s probably in your head. According to Travel + Leisure, “Transportation Security Administration agents, border security agents, air traffic controllers and immigration enforcement officials are considered essential personnel,” so operations in these agencies in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will seem functional as usual to most travelers.
Another agency of DHS that may be affected by the government shutdown is Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to a memorandum from the agency administrator during the last government shutdown in 2013, many FEMA employees were furloughed, but some stayed on. In the eventt osof an applicable natural or man-made disaster, rest assured that response personnel would be considered essential. In the meantime, DHS offers some tips to prepare your family for a disaster if you are home.
Some public lands are available regardless of the shutdown — there’s plenty of BLM and Forest Service land that’s open 24/7/365. However, public land users should be extra cautious and extra mindful during these times. Law enforcement personnel may or may not be available to patrol, and this may be dangerous as the Huffington Post opines. In terms of cleanliness and user experience, it’s likely that law enforcement may be considered “essential” but the people who clean the bathrooms and pick up trash* may be furloughed, so pack out your trash in case it’s weeks before the bins are emptied.
Although there was pre-shutdown discussion of some national parks staying open, it seems odd since the current Administration hasn’t been very supportive of these conservation spaces so far. Now probably isn’t the time to execute a great U.S. national parks tour.
Consider how much we rely on government services when we travel without usually thinking about them — what’s your destination’s ambulatory system like? Is there a fire department? Is the metro system reliable? These are usually based in local government rather than federal, and when traveling, local government services can be highly affected! If you’ve ever spent time in a place where the transit or garbage pickup service workers are striking, it’s easy to see how much harder your travels could be without government services. Here’s hoping we’re back on track (and back to work, and back to national parks road trips!) soon.
Will your travels be affected by the January 2018 U.S. government shutdown? Tweet me at @trailheaders on Twitter or comment below.
*Author’s note: I am one of these people, a seasonal park ranger. Picking up trash is good for the planet! Opinions expressed here are my own and in no way expressive of any government agency.