GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 4, 2013

Shutdown takes increasing toll

NOAA staff at below 25 percent; Head Start program affected

By Sean Horgan
Staff Writer

---- — The tentacles of the federal government’s partial shutdown are reaching deeper into Gloucester, eliminating federal food reimbursements to Pathways for Children’s Head Start program and diminishing the local NOAA workforce.

Caroline Haines, Pathways chief operating officer, said the sole immediate impact from the shutdown is the loss of approximately $25,000 per month in food-cost reimbursements the agency was set to receive as part of its contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pathways will absorb that reduction in reimbursements rather than cut the food program that serves about 500 preschool children at Head Start programs across the North Shore, including 350 at Pathways’ Emerson Street facility in Gloucester, said Pathways President Sue Todd.

“It will be a drain on our cash flow,” Todd said.

In a curious way, Todd said, the timing of the 4-days-old shutdown enabled Pathways to avoid a much more serious negative impact.

“Fortunately for us, we’re in the middle of our grant cycle,” she said. “If we began our grant cycle on Oct. 1, we would be closed.”

She also said that sequestration — the current federal policy that bluntly enacts automatic spending cuts in federal programs — has had a much greater negative impact on Pathways, to the tune of roughly $200,000 in the first year.

“That means we’re serving 76 fewer children and now have a staggering waiting list,” Todd said. “While we’ve managed to manage, that’s just Year One of 10.”

The scene Thursday at NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office was a placid one, with the agency’s parking lots largely empty and the glass doors locked at the front of the four-story brick building in Blackburn Industrial Park.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency office’s local workforce, normally numbering about 200 employees has been pared to about 44 during the shutdown.

The remaining workers Thursday, according to sources, included 17 seafood inspectors, about 25 law enforcement personnel and two to three from the general fisheries staff.

Local NOAA officials have declined to field questions about specific reductions at various sites, referring calls to the agency’s national headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. And figures released Monday by the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA, show that 45 percent of NOAA’s 12,001-person national workforce would continue working even through a federal government shutdown. But that percentage is much lower at the Gloucester-based offices in Blackburn Industrial Park.

A sign on the front door of NOAA’s Gloucester headquarters Thursday informed visitors that the building was closed to the public due to the government shutdown and informed fishermen to leave their vessel trip reports with the building security guard.

A sign at the building’s loading dock informed truckers to contact building security about any deliveries.

Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT