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72-Hour Government Shutdown Delays Federal-Level Meetings on Rural Alaska Issues

United States Capitol Building

Ripple effects from the temporary government shutdown have already reached Western Alaska.

Kawerak’s President and CEO, Melanie Bahnke, had plans to discuss and advocate for regional issues this week, with top government officials like Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Now that these officials aren’t being paid to be in their offices, or are on furlough, Bahnke expressed disappointment that these meetings have been pushed back.

“I was going to be down in Washington, D.C., along with other members of the Alaska Federation of Natives’ Board, meeting with our Congressional delegation, Secretary Zinke, the head of OMB, and other folks like that to advocate on region’s issues, such as water and sewer, the oil and gas leasing… Those meetings will hopefully be rescheduled. It did take months for AFN to coordinate this high-level meeting.”

Besides affecting AFN delegates’ and Bahnke’s scheduled conversations with government employees, the shutdown impacted Kawerak’s Board Chairman, Frank Katchatag, who was slated to speak at a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management public meeting today.

This one BOEM proposed public meeting to be held in Alaska, regarding the Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program, is now postponed.

According to BOEM, due to the lapse in government funding, multiple activities have ceased for money issues and because a number of employees have been temporarily furloughed. As such, the National OCS Program meetings scheduled for this week are all postponed.

Bahnke says Kawerak and various tribes in the Bering Sea region are calling for more than one public meeting to be held in Western Alaska, regarding the new draft proposal on the five-year OCS gas and oil leasing program:

“We’ve also sent BOEM a letter requesting them to come and have tribal consultation on the oil and gas leasing issues in our region, regarding the four basins that would affect our region. And I just got a copy of a letter from Governor Walker, also asking that BOEM conduct tribal consultation in the areas that have been opened up for potential leasing.”

Due to the brief government hiatus in funding, BOEM’s National OCS public meeting in Anchorage will be canceled for the foreseeable future without a rescheduled date in place as of yet. Bahnke says Kawerak has worked around government shutdowns in the past, and they are doing so again this year:

“Kawerak has built up some reserves to be prepared for situations like this. This isn’t the first time that Kawerak has survived through a government shutdown, and I doubt it will be the last. So we try to plan for the unexpected and make sure that we aren’t having to shut our doors down.”

According to Bahnke, some of Kawerak’s grant providers and their grant funding, like the Head Start Program, are also in limbo as a result of the government shutdown, which ended last night.

The decision from Congress to fund the government until February 8th, came three days after the shutdown officially began.