Six things you may not know about the U.S. government shutdown

Summary:Civil servant? On a work visa? Living in the U.S., or even in the International Space Station? The federal government shutdown is affecting millions of people... even pandas.

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Image: CNET

Parks are closed. Vacations have been ruined. And Wall Street, on the third day of the shutdown, is starting to get a little skittish.

For goodness sakes — even the National Zoo's "panda cams" are offline. And yet Congresspeople are still getting paid despite the fact tens of thousands of federal employees have been furloughed. Is there no end to this budget insanity?

Apparently not. Because the U.S. government shut down — effectively meaning all non-critical and essential services are closed or shuttered until a time when government funding can be secured — many services are unavailable to the wider public and federal employees alike. 

And that's on those pesky kids in Washington, who are too busy playing politics to remember that they first and foremost represent the people who elected them, who are also the same people suffering as a result of their actions.

Because this affects pretty much everyone in the U.S. — as well as many others far, far beyond the border — here are six things you may not know about the shutdown. 

Working from home? Checking your government email is illegal

Federal employees are not allowed to check their work email — seriously — and doing so could land the public servant a hefty fine, or even jail time. That means no peeking at your inbox, and no marking everything as read (because we all do it). Just switch off your work phone and leave it on the counter, as this would be in breach of an antiquated law known as the Antideficiency Act — passed more than 140 years ago, according to The Washington Post.

Once a furlough begins, "agencies can also consider using (1-)800 numbers and emails to home email accounts," according to a U.S. Office of Personal Management document.

All those government lawsuits? Yep, not during a shutdown

The U.S. Justice Department is also hit by the government shutdown. Not all litigation will stop immediately, however. According to Reuters, fewer than 18,000 of the 114,500 employees at the Justice Dept. will be furloughed. That's approximately 15 percent of the entire department.

As a result, criminal litigation against individual and companies will continue. But, civil litigation will be put on the most part on the backburner in order to save money — so long as it doesn't compromise the safety of human life or the protection of property.

U.S. shutdown affects not just America, but also outer space

"Ground control to Major Tom... hello? Is anyone there?" With close to 18,000 employees working at the NASA, just 3 percent will remain at the space agency to support critical missions that are literally out of this world. That's a total of 600 people to keep the entire space program in check — including keeping an eye on the astronauts currently floating 230 miles above the Earth's surface in the International Space Station.

Concerned about the Mars Curiosity Rover? According to one report, the rover is now in a "protective mode" and as a result will not gather any new data until the budget is rubber-stamped back on Earth. 

Welcome to AnyGovernmentWebsite.gov. No new information for you

Social media accounts of federal departments have also been curtailed as a result of the government shutdown. This includes websites and other web-based services attached to various furloughed agencies.

If you check any major website — including that of the White House, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Justice Department — you will be presented with a 'splash' screen explaining their current status. Even First Lady Michelle Obama isn't allowed to tweet, according to her last message published on October 1.

Need a visa to visit the U.S.? Nope, not during a shutdown

Heading to the U.S. for a business trip, or need to remain in the U.S. with soon-to-be-lapse in visa paperwork? The Washington Post notes that while the U.S. State Department will continue issuing passports and visas during the shutdown, some passport offices are located in government offices shuttered by the federal funding lapse.

The U.S. State Department says on its website: "Consular operations domestically and overseas will remain 100 percent operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations." But it also noted: "If a passport agency is located in a government building affected by a lapse in appropriations, the facility may become unsupported." 

Unfortunately, NSA surveillance operations are still considered critical

In spite of the public outrage at the mass surveillance operations by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), these wiretapping and communication snooping programs will continue. These operations are considered, at least to the federal government, critical to national security and will continue to tick over, reports The Hill.

According to leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the U.S. government hands the spy agency $10.8 billion each year out of the wider $52.6 billion "black budget." 

Correction at 4 p.m. ET: corrected visa entry based on incorrect original source.

Topics: Smartphones

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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