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E-Verify dark as U.S. shutoff cuts communications with business

The internet-based system that employers use to check whether job applicants may legally work went dark as U.S. agencies limited or cut off electronic communications businesses use in everyday tasks.

Websites that shut down included the E-Verify site run by the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the agency sites of the Census Bureau, Agriculture Department, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Library of Congress and the federal and international trade commissions.

“Business people are making decisions,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department will stop issuing crop reports and processing loans for small rural businesses.

“They have to make decisions today, and the reality is that they are faced with this enormous uncertainty. The fact is, when you’re faced with uncertainty, you pull back. You don’t make decisions you might otherwise make. You don’t expand, you don’t invest.”

Closing the E-Verify system that checks information provided by employees against millions of government records was one result of the first shutdown in 17 years. Effects rippled through a workforce of 800,000 employees headed for idleness, and spread on to the companies and citizens the workers serve.

Mortgage lenders processing loans that need tax transcripts, Social Security number verification, or approval from the Federal Housing Administration should anticipate delays, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in a note to its members.

A shutdown of a few days will “slightly inconvenience” members; a longer delay could have “serious impacts” and possibly impede the recovery of the housing market, the Washington-based trade group for the real-estate finance industry said.

The Federal Communications Commission said it would suspend consideration of deals involving purchases of airwaves licenses and television stations – transactions affecting AT&T Inc., Gannett Co. Inc., Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.

Work on federal construction projects will slow because contractors can’t reach government employees with questions or get changes to work orders approved, according to officials with Associated General Contractors of America, a Washington-based trade group.

The group yesterday said it couldn’t publish its monthly report on U.S. construction spending because the Census Bureau stopped release of the data it analyzes.

“Depending on how long the government is closed, construction workers are likely to miss out on new job opportunities,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “This shutdown poses a real risk of undermining the industry’s long-awaited recovery.”

The shutdown of the International Trade Commission’s website means companies, attorneys and the public can’t gain access to documents in pending cases, including patent disputes between companies such as Ericsson and Samsung Electronics Co.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the largest defense contractor, will keep its facilities open and pay its workers unless directed to do otherwise, said Jennifer Allen, a spokeswoman.

U.S. contractors who aren’t told to continue working do so “at their own risk,” said Dan Gordon, an associate dean for procurement law at George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. Gordon previously served as President Obama’s top procurement official.

Vendors that are told not to work probably won’t get paid, he said. Companies told to keep working are “absolutely, positively guaranteed to be paid. They just might be paid late,” Gordon said.

Federal contractors will still be able to file protests of lost awards by email during the shutdown – only nobody will be around to read them. The Government Accountability Office’s protest unit, which arbitrates federal contracting disputes, is closed.

Airline safety inspectors who check aircraft after flights and oversee repair shops were sent off the job. Those furloughed at the Federal Aviation Administration included 2,490 from its Office of Aviation Safety, the agency said in its plan for the partial shutdown.

“We’re pretty outraged and our members just can’t understand,” Kori Blalock Keller, a spokeswoman for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union that represents the workers, said in an interview. “They don’t understand how you can take a critical workforce like this, and just bench them.”

The safety workers are to be recalled incrementally over two weeks, the Transportation Department, which houses the FAA, said in a planning document.

“We do not expect airline operations to be impacted” because “front-line employees” aren’t subject to the furloughs, Vaughn Jennings, an FAA spokesman, said in an email.

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