By Joe Beck
The U.S. Justice Department is downplaying the effects of a federal government shutdown on law enforcement efforts, but those with pending lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg and other federal courts will see their cases delayed.
A contingency plan issued Friday by the Justice Department commits the agency to continuing services "where there is a reasonable likelihood that the safety of human life or the protection of property would be compromised in some significant degree, by delay in the performance of the function in question."
The plan lists U.S. attorneys, FBI agents and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives and Drug Enforcement Administration among those exempt from the shutdown.
Deputy U.S. marshals are also exempt under the plan.
The FBI's list of exempt employees also includes those who help local law enforcement officials obtain criminal histories on suspects and defendants through the National Instant Criminal Background Check Systems.
Local law enforcement officials in Shenandoah County and Front Royal said they have received no information from federal agencies to indicate that any investigations coordinated with local agencies will be affected by the shutdown.
"Excepted personnel are needed because all operations of the FBI are directed toward national security and investigations of violations of law involving protection of life and property," the plan states. "Thus, the FBI must be able to continue existing investigations, open new investigations and respond to all contingencies which might arise during a lapse in appropriations. Accordingly, all FBI agents and support personnel in the field are considered excepted from furloughs."
Dee Rybiski, community outreach specialist with the FBI's Richmond office, said the Winchester office of the FBI will remain fully staffed and maintain normal office hours.
The Justice Department's contingency plans list civil litigation in federal courts as a service that "will be curtailed or postponed to the extent this can be done without compromising to a significant degree the safety of human life and the protection of property."
The plan contains a provision stating that a civil case could continue if a federal judge denies a litigator's request for postponement during the shutdown.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell used similar language to the Justice Department at a press conference in Richmond on Monday during which he vowed to maintain emergency services throughout the state during the shutdown.
"There's not going to be a curtailment of any critical services for public safety," McDonnell said.
McDonnell, who has opposed Obamacare, nevertheless denounced the impending shutdown.
He called the shutdown "completely unacceptable as an abdication of federal government responsibility."
U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, issued a news release Sunday after voting for a House bill that would impose a one-year delay in Obamacare as a condition of funding the federal government.
Goodlatte predicted Obamacare "will raise health care costs and restrict access" to medical providers.
"Tonight, I voted in support of the House's bipartisan compromise to delay implementation of the Obamacare train wreck for one year and keep the doors of the federal government open," Goodlatte said.
The Senate rejected the bill Monday afternoon and sent another bill to the House that would fund the federal government while leaving Obamacare intact.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org