With shutdown over, southern New Mexicans go back to work
Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — It was a typical work day Thursday throughout southern New Mexico.
The federal government shutdown that for 16 days affected the region's four military installations: White Sands Missile Range, White Sands Test Facility, Holloman Air Force Base and Fort Bliss; the federal courts; and federally managed public lands such as Aguirre Spring, Dripping Springs, Soledad Canyon and White Sands National Monument; is finally over.
"They finally came to their senses," said Las Crucen Greg Tucker, a commercial truck driver. "Everybody playing politics, and God, with people's lives. The question after all of this is who won; I don't think anyone did. One way or another we all lost. Time will tell how much."
With approval late Wednesday from Congress, thousands of southern New Mexicans went back to their federal jobs Thursday. It was the first time in almost three weeks that all WSMR employees were working, and with promises from the government that had just furloughed them that they would be paid for days lost from work and into at least the short-term future.
"Unfortunately, Congress did not end the budget uncertainty that has cast such a shadow of uncertainty over this department for much of the year," said Chuck Hagel, secretary of the Department of Defense, in a memorandum sent early Thursday to affected employees. "In the months ahead, they will have an opportunity to do so. My hope is that they will realize that these kinds of crises do great damage to our people, our national security, our economy, and America's standing in the world. Congress has a responsibility to govern, and it must fulfill those basic responsibilities in order to keep our country strong."
Open for business
The continuing political back-and-forth rhetoric, was contrasted Thursday with the underlying theme of federally funded agencies across southern New Mexico trumpeting the return of "open for business."
Bill Childress, director of Las Cruces field office Bureau of Land Management, said it in so many words.
"We're open for business," said an upbeat Childress. "We're in full operation. We do have a lot of catching up to do, but all of the public lands the bureau manages are open once again for the public's enjoyment. People are very happy to be back to work."
The BLM manages 5.4 million acres of public land in six counties throughout southern New Mexico.
White Sands National Monument, about 60 miles east of Las Cruces, also reopened Thursday to the public when its 19 employees returned to work. Its visitor center, bookstore, gift shop, Dunes Drive, trails, and picnic areas are once again accessible.
"We look forward to having visitors back in the park and enjoying the dune field," said Marie Frías Sauter, White Sands National Monument superintendent. "The cottonwoods are starting to turn a golden hue and provide a striking contrast to the dunes. Fall is a wonderful time to visit the monument."
Rebecca Wiles, chief of interpretation, added a full schedule of monument activities and events will begin immediately.
"We are fully open for business and invite people to visit their national park," Wiles said. "...We have a variety of interpretive programs scheduled for November."
Sunset strolls at White Sands National Monument began Thursday and will continue daily at 5:15 p.m. The monument's full moon night will resume at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and a full moon bike ride -- a reservation-required event -- will be at 8 p.m. today.
Federal courts were mostly affected by civil cases that had to be rescheduled. However, the federal public defender's office apparently wasn't impacted much by the shutdown.
Marlin said all of WSMR's civilian employees, which includes military civil service and contractor employees, all returned to work Thursday. The most current WSMR statistics list 5,017 full-time civilians employees there.
"It's business as usual at White Sands Missile Range, ...everyone is back," Marlin said. "However, we still have fiscal challenges."
Marlin added there will be some catch-up work WSMR employees will encounter.
"The shutdown backed us up on our test program," Marlin said. "We have a long schedule of programs to be tested."
Sequestration and a reduced operating budget forced the cancellation of WSMR's annual open house for Trinity Site before the shutdown happened. However, Marlin said events, such as the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, on March 23, are still scheduled.