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    Federal Gov't Begins Grinding to a Halt as Shutdown Takes Effect

    A lot of unanswered questions arise as Congress fails to act on temporary spending bill.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The country woke up this morning to find the federal government partially shut down after Congress failed to pass a temporary spending bill in a dispute over the Affordable Care Act.

    The shutdown meant that 800,000 federal workers did not report to work today, and the U.S. Capitol canceled tours not personally led by Congressional members. In addition, national parks and monuments, and federal workplaces closed up shop.

    With the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate at a stalemate, it is unclear how long the shutdown -- and the loss of some government programs and services -- will last, according to a report by The Associated Press.

    It is also unclear how the move might affect the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or its Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). It was widely believed the agency would issue deeming regulations on electronic cigarettes this month. In addition, Mitch Zeller, director of the CTP, is slated to host a webinar, "20 Years Later -- Returning to FDA to Regulate Tobacco," on Oct. 9.

    In an e-mail to CSNews Online, an agency spokesman said in keeping with the "Contingency Staffing Plan for Operations in the Absence of Enacted Annual Appropriations," FDA activities that are continuing during the government shutdown include those that do not rely on annual appropriations, and activities that involve the safety of human life and protection of property.

    Some of the FDA activities that are continuing include:

    • Limited activities related to FDA's user fee-funded programs, including activities in the Center for Tobacco Products and certain activities in the centers for drugs, devices and biologics. This includes product approvals, and drug and device safety communications.
       
    • Select vital activities including critical consumer protection to handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, civil and criminal investigations, import entry reviews and other critical public health issues.

    In addition, as a result of the shutdown, approximately 45 percent of the agency is being furloughed. An estimated 55 percent of the agency's employees are excepted and reporting for work. Of the employees that are reporting to work, 74 percent are funded by user fees.

    On the retail front, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) will continue operations. The Exchange will be largely unaffected by the shutdown because it is a non-appropriated instrumentality. Nearly 97 percent of its funding is generated by sales and less than 3 percent of its budget comes from tax dollar support, according to AAFES.

    "Some transactions may be delayed, such as the purchase of firearms, which require background checks or other federal government actions. But, for the most part, it will be business as usual at the Exchange," said Chief of Staff Col. Tom Ockenfels.

    As a matter of course, the Department of Defense plans for contingencies. Since 1980, all agencies have had a plan in case of government shutdown and these plans are updated routinely, AAFES said.

    "The Exchange will do everything we have to do to continue to support the soldiers, airmen, retirees and their families, both home and abroad," Ockenfels said.

    The military will continue to be paid under legislation signed Monday by President Barack Obama, but paychecks for other federal workers will be withheld until the impasse is broken. Federal workers were told to report to their jobs for a half-day, but to perform only shutdown tasks like changing email greetings and closing down agencies' Internet sites, the AP reported.

    The self-funded Postal Service will continue to operate, and the government will continue to pay Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid fees to doctors on time.

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