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Federal shutdown — some agencies are functioning, some not

[SN  file photo]

The Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the American Samoa judicial branch as well federal funding for capital improvement projects to the US Insular Areas, are exempted from a federal government shutdown, according to the US Department of Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs contingency plan in the event there is a lapse in federal funding and the feds is closed down.

Meanwhile, the US Postal Service is not affected by the federal shutdown because the agency is self-funded. Additionally, FAA control towers remain open throughout the US.

The partial federal shutdown commenced at 12:01a.m. Jan. 20 (Washington D.C. time) after the US Congress — through the US Senate — failed to reach a compromise for continuing funding for the current fiscal year. While the US House had passed what it called a “stop-gap” funding bill on Thursday to prevent the shutdown, the US Senate worked late into the night Friday to reach a compromised but didn’t as the clock ticked away to the deadline (which was 6p.m. Jan. 20 in American Samoa.)

Local residents watching budget developments on television witnessed the count-down on CNN network, which had a live-broadcast link to the US Senate chamber as well as a count-down clock ticking away on the TV screen.

Samoa News has received a few inquiries regarding the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the High Court — both appointed by the US Interior Secretary — as the federal shutdown entered day two on Sunday.

As of late Friday afternoon, the High Court calendar for Monday, shows that the court continues the many cases waiting to be heard. And as of Sunday morning, Jan. 21, there were no changes to the High Court calendar for Monday.

Sources pointed Samoa News to OIA’s contingency plan of September 2017 for implementation in the event of a “lapse in appropriation” posted on DOI website as well as the link for information regarding the Chief Justice and Associate Justice.

According to the contingency plan, OIA has 35 employees, which includes the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas and 2 judges of the American Samoa judiciary. It says 7 employees will be designated as exempt as these employees will be funded from the prior-year carryover to support ongoing administration of non-lapsing appropriations for compacts and other Insular Affairs programs that are dictated by mandatory obligations.

The employees will provide necessary activities in support of the Compact of Free Association, the Capital Improvement Project program and the American Samoa Judiciary, it says.

Designated as essential and therefore exempted, are the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the American Samoa court system, according to the contingency plan, which notes that the presiding judges are paid as federal employees and that continued operation of the court is required to preserve law and order.

For CIP grants — non-lapsing appropriation, the contingency plan, states that the US insular areas have on-going construction programs requiring contractual payments funded by existing grants. “Failure to provide federal funding will seriously affect island governments’ cash flow and may create financial penalties and defaults,” the according to the contingency plan document.

Another bureau of USDOI is the National Park Service, which has operations in American Samoa. Samoa News understands that local staff of the National Park of American Samoa have been informed to show up for work Monday, Jan. 22, for clean up as it would be their last day, until they are called back.

A notice posted on the NPS website states that some parks in the National Park System may have areas that remain accessible to visitors; however access may change without notice, and some parks are closed completely.

In a brief statement issued Saturday, Jan. 20 and posted on its website, the US Postal Service says its operations are not being interrupted during the current government shutdown, and all Post Offices remain open for business as usual.

“Because we are an independent entity that is funded through the sale of our products and services, and not by tax dollars, our services are not impacted by the government shutdown,” it says.

For the American Samoa Government, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga issued last Thursday an order outlining procedures as well as exempted services in the event of a US government shut down. The order includes employees whose salaries are paid by federal grants. (See Samoa News edition Friday for details.)