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Government shutdown could affect thousands of fed workers in Chicago

An traveller is patted down by TSA agent O'Hare International Airport Chicago Monday Nov. 22 2010. There are new requirements

An traveller is patted down by a TSA agent at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Monday, Nov. 22, 2010. There are new requirements at some U.S. airports that air passengers must pass through full-body scanners that produce a virtually naked image. Those who refuse to go through the scanners are subject to thorough pat-downs. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

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Updated: November 1, 2013 10:14AM

A federal government shutdown could affect thousands of employees in the Chicago area, but a lot of people would barely notice.

Most of those immediately thought of as federal employees will be expected to show up anyway, even if they are not being paid.

That would include sworn personnel at Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago. Social Security checks will be issued and Medicare and Medicaid business will be processed, according to federal guidelines.

Air-traffic controllers will scan the skies and Transportation Security Administration workers, like it or not, will be at their posts. Authorities are taking pains to ensure that a shutdown will not snarl air travel, unlike a debate in the spring over mandatory federal budget cuts — the “sequester.”

Veterans hospitals would remain open and the caseloads would continue in federal court, although the judiciary could slowly wind down its business if the congressional funding stalemate drags on.

The FBI and the Justice Department will remain on guard. The mail will be delivered because the U.S. Postal Service isn’t government-funded, even if its finances might invite a government bailout.

Agency directives being posted in recent days raise little alarm over what federal work won’t get done.

There are an estimated 55,000 federal and postal workers in the Chicago area. Furloughs could involve several thousand federal workers locally. The Defense Department said about half of its 800,000 workers worldwide will be furloughed, primarily civilian employees.

“I call this a lockout, not a shutdown. It hits us all — management employees and those in our bargaining units,” said J. David Fox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union. He said “tens of thousands” of his members in Illinois are subject to furlough.

It will be more difficult or impossible to get a passport, a gun permit or a new Social Security card. The federal orders say that employees not essential to national security or to public health and safety will face furloughs.

For the Internal Revenue Service, that means only 9 percent of its 94,000 would have to keep reporting for work. So if you are trying to file tax returns for the extended Oct. 15 deadline and need an IRS answer, good luck.

The National Park Service, custodian of everything from Yellowstone National Park to Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, would have to close its facilities.

There also could be residual effects for state workers who administer federally funded programs, said Anders Lindall, spokesman for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Illinois service in military affairs, emergency management and the Department of Labor could be curtailed, said Lindall, whose union has no federal members. “I think we know more questions than answers but the stakes are high,” he said.

While many federal employees are concentrated in Chicago’s Loop, three military installations in Illinois provide the bulk of the federal jobs in the state — Great Lakes, Rock Island Arsenal and Scott Air Force Base. Those bases employ uniformed, civilian and contracted personnel.

Both Democrats and Republicans would take extreme political heat for not paying uniformed members of the Armed Services. That’s why the House and Senate are poised to fund the active and reserve military and Coast Guard personnel even as lawmakers are at a stalemate on the broader federal government and Obamacare issues.

No matter what happens, Oct. 1 paychecks will be issued. Many federal workers, including those in military service, aren’t due for their next check until Oct. 15.

Under the House GOP bill sent to the Senate early Sunday, civilian and contract employees would have to get exemptions — depending on their job — from either the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a conference call with Illinois reporters, “What the Tea Party wants to do is threaten the jobs of innocent, hardworking federal employees and also threaten the services that working families across America count on.”

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