Feds scramble to respond to Gulf storm during government shutdown

As Tropical Storm Karen heads toward the Gulf of Mexico and some oil companies evacuate platforms in the area, federal agencies are navigating a government shutdown to respond.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recalled furloughed workers on Thursday as the storm was moving north toward the Gulf Coast. White House spokesman Jay Carney said FEMA had been bringing the unpaid workers back to the job “to serve functions of the agency that protects life and property as they prepare for potential landfall of Tropical Storm Karen.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are drafting legislation that would steer federal dollars to agencies that deal with storms, including the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, despite Capitol Hill’s resistance to a piecemeal approach to funding the government.

“Today we’re going to vote to (fund) FEMA and the National Weather Service, as we witness a growing storm in the Gulf,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

The federal agency that oversees offshore energy activities is adapting its approach too. Although the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement usually relies on its website to give Gulf status updates, including company-reported info on shutdowns and evacuations, the website was shuttered by the shutdown. Instead, workers expect to steer information to a skeleton Interior Department website that has limited information while the federal government is in limbo.

Essential government personnel are still on duty, including many workers in the safety bureau.

Bureau spokesman David Smith noted that the agency “has continued operations critical to the oversight of safe and environmentally responsible offshore oil and natural gas operations, including inspection of offshore facilities.”

Despite the shutdown, the bureau opened an emergency operations center in a New Orleans field office to monitor weather and industry response.

“BSEE will also make data available to and coordinate with our federal partners as the storm develops,” Smith said.

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