MSU Professor: Possible government shutdown could impact national parks


MSU Professor: Possible government shutdown could impact national parks (09/24/13)

BOZEMAN, Mont. - A budget battle in Washington, D.C., could force part of the government to shut down. NBC Montana wanted to know more -- like how likely a shutdown is and how it will affect Montanans. We sat down with an MSU associate political science professor to help us plow through the bureaucracy.

MSU Associate Professor and Executive Director of the Burton K. Wheeler Center for Public Policy Eric Austin tells us reports now suggest a government shutdown is very possible. He says there's some indication that there's movement in the Senate towards a compromise but, at this point, we just don't know.

"The best case scenario is that this becomes an incentive to create some political compromise but we've seen in the past that doesn't necessarily work," says Austin.

We asked Austin how Montanans might feel the effects of a government shutdown.

"The things that we're likely to see is that the gates to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park could well be closed and so our ability to go visit the parks or any other federal lands could be diminished," Austin says.

Austin explains many government agencies like the Department of the Interior have a contingency plan in case of a lapse in appropriations.

We sifted through the plan for the National Park Service and found a shutdown would happen in two phases. In phase one, day use visitors would be instructed to leave the park. In phase two, visitors using campgrounds would be asked to make other arrangements and leave the park. The plan indicates whereever possible, park roads will be closed and staffing levels would be held at minimum, performing only essential functions.

Austin adds some portion of funding for many local and state programs come through the federal government.

"If they are due to receive funds or payments connected to those programs, they could be delayed. It's unlikely that they would be canceled entirely but they could certainly be delayed," explains Austin.

He tells us we won't see an impact to our military, criminal investigations won't be affected and he says Congress is likely to ensure things like social security checks and air travel will continue.

"Those are among the critical services that Congress, all members of Congress, are likely to want to see continue and so chances of compromise around those kinds of activities is probably greater," says Austin.

Austin tells us these kind of crisis are intended to provide some incentive to members of Congress and the administration to find a compromise.

The deadline is October 1. Anything approved in the Senate will likely have to go back to the House of Representatives before it heads to the President's desk.

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