Tension on Capitol Hill has been increasing all year, and it looks like we may see the peak this weekend if Congress fails to pass a new budget or continuing resolution by Friday, April 8.
The differences between the Republicans and Democrats may be ideological in nature, but the effects of a shutdown on the public, particularly the traveler, will be dramatic.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, TSA agents, air traffic controllers and immigration/customs officials will all be at work, their jobs deemed to be essential. On the non-essential list though are passport processors, which means if you are in the midst of applying or renewing your travel documents, you’re going to have to wait until after the shutdown and for the State Department to clear their backlog before you will receive the new document. For many with trips planned over the Summer, those passports may come too late depending on the length of the shutdown.
Not only are administrative offices affected, but so are many travel destinations themselves. A Federal shutdown means that all national parks, national monuments and historic sites around the country, from Acadia National Park in Maine to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, will be closed. Given the fact that there were more than 281 million recreational visitors to the national parks in 2010, the effect of even a temporary shutdown on the traveling public will be dramatic. Vacations will be canceled and important outreach opportunities will be lost. The National Park Service is planning a free admission week for all national parks and monuments between April 16-April 24. Traditionally free park weeks have been a great chance not only to stimulate interest in the park system, but to give everyone the equal opportunity to visit one of the greatest American legacies, our parks and lands.
National parks aren’t the only destinations that will feel the brunt of a government shutdown. Spring is one of the peak tourist seasons for Washington, DC, following on the heels of the Cherry Blossom Festival. People from around the country and the world descend on our nation’s capital to visit the world class Smithsonian Institution museums, which are always free to the public. A government shutdown will close the doors to these iconic museums, from the Air & Space Museum to the National Zoo, leaving tourists at a loss for activities. Sure there are some other, non-government funded museums and activities in town, but the real stars are all subject to shutdown.
While Members of Congress fight over how much money to cut from the Federal budget, take a look at your own travel plans and make sure their folly won’t destroy your valuable leisure time.