Joshua Tree National Park is among the parks facing partial closures due to "human waste" issues.

Joshua Tree National Park is among the parks facing partial closures due to "human waste" issues. Cathy Bell/NPS file photo

Shutdown Roundup: Poop in Parks, Marriage License Delays and Immigration Backups

The effects of the appropriations lapse are being felt nationwide.

With the new Congress arriving at the Capitol on Thursday, the partial government shutdown affecting hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors is at nearly its two-week mark. Negotiations are ongoing, but talks broke down at the White House on Wednesday.

At GovExec, we can't report on all aspects of the shutdown. Here is a roundup of a few storylines from other news outlets.

As congressional leaders and the White House go back and forth on border funding, one aspect of immigration heavily affected by the shutdown is the federal immigration courts. According to Texas Public Radio, the Justice Department sent a notice last week informing courts that "non-detained docket cases will be reset for a later date after funding resumes," shuttering most immigration courts. According to Texas Public Radio, "courts operating in immigration detention centers, where federal immigration authorities hold immigrants pending deportation" will stay open and hear cases, but staff will not be paid until the shutdown ends. Read more on Texas Public Radio's site. 

At our sibling site Nextgov, Jack Corrigan examined the effect the partial shutdown will have on shared services across the federal government. The General Services Administration and departments of Agriculture, Treasury and Interior are all affected by the shutdown, but will "continue to run common systems like payroll using fees from customer agencies" because there is still funding set aside for those systems. That could change, according to Corrigan's reporting, if the shutdown drags on. Professional Services Council Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin told Nextgov that "they will operate as long as they have money available,” but the systems "are not subject to the new appropriations.” Read more at Nextgov.

Many furloughed federal employees live in Washington, D.C. and those D.C. residents wanting to get a marriage license will hit a roadblock during the partial shutdown because the Marriage Bureau at D.C. Superior Court is not open until funding resumes. According to The Washington Post, the federal government funds the court system in D.C. and only parts of the system are considered "essential" during the shutdown. Juries are being seated and cases are being heard, but court services like marriage licenses, "bar admissions, the judicial library and a child-care center" are all shuttered. Read more at The Washington Post.

If you were concerned about the shutdown's effects on the Internal Revenue Service's ability to process your tax refund, you may be onto something. According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly seven in eight IRS employees will not be working during the shutdown, greatly hampering the agency's ability to "conduct audits, respond to taxpayer questions outside the filing season or—brace yourself—pay refunds." If the shutdown is resolved quickly, most taxpayers would not be affected, but filing season begins to ramp up in late January and February. According to one tax expert that the Journal interviewed, a longer shutdown would be "uncharted territory as each day gets longer” for tax preparers, the tax agency and taxpayers. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

The partial shutdown has closed some—but not all—National Parks. Even the open parks will be largely without staff. This has caused a "wild west" atmosphere at many parks, according to reporting by The Washington Post. The toilets are a particular problem in California parks, with one Joshua Tree regular visitor telling the paper: "Once those port-a-potties fill up, there’s no amount of cleaning that will save them." The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Joshua Tree closed campgrounds to overnight stays because of the toilet issue and iconic Yosemite National Park is limiting visitors because of “continuing issues with human waste and resource damage.” While dedicated volunteers have tried to ameliorate damage by picking up litter and restocking toilet paper throughout the National Parks system, more closures are expected. Read more at The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.