Government shutdown definition of essential vs. nonessential funding

WASHINGTON - The federal government hierarchy has been set. And, just to make office politics even more awkward once the partial government shutdown ends, it's been made public, too.

"Essential" vs. "Nonessential" is the unequalizer among the furlough set, with the shutdown prioritizing some roles while at least appearing to devalue others. Some of the decisions, however, on what is or is not essential have not exactly gone as many people might expect. And certainly not as they'd hoped.

Many of the most deeply felt shutdown cuts are well known at this point (suspending NIH drug trials and shuttering an evergrowing number of Head Start locations among them), but there are some other quirky, lesser-known victims -- and survivors -- as well.

New craft breweries: Nonessential.

Sorry urban lumberjacks, the next "choice small batch suds you gotta try!" won't be coming for a little while. The small Treasury Department division that approves new breweries and recipes is closed. According to the Toronto Star, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will still process taxes from established micro breweries, but won't be greenlighting any new applications.

Congress' gym: Essential. (Towel service?: Nonessential.)

The exclusive congressional gym, open only to the elected politicians responsible for the shutdown, is remaining open. Rep. Paul Ryan's gotta get in those arm curls, after all. The facility is not being staffed, and suspended towel service means it's a strictly a BYOT hygiene system right now, but maintenance and the machines are still up and running.

Crabs: Nonessential.

Just in time for the lucrative king crab season off Alaska, the federal agency which sets quotas for each boat has closed up shop. The delay would have a huge financial impact on the industry and -- we suppose -- the production schedule for "Deadliest Catch."

Mechanical bulls: Essential.

Or at least one of them is, anyway. A $47,000 mechanical bull for the U.S. National Guard was approved Tuesday. "Buy why does the National Guard need a mechanical bull? And how many Head Start kids could you feed and educate for $47,000?" Good questions. The Guard plans to use the bull as a recruitment tool at festivals. And as for the children, well, probably more than are currently being fed and educated.

Lab mice at the National Cancer Institute: Essential.

As opposed to the fake bull, the real mice -- as research subjects -- do serve what is perhaps a more overtly critical purpose. While many NCI employees have been furloughed, one of the workers who remains is Al Singer, chief of the Experimental Immunology Branch. He told Science that the lab's mice give birth to 1,200 babies each week, all of whom must be genetically tested and culled, according to the publication.

U.S. cemetery at Normandy: Nonessential.

The famous memorial and cemetery, where more than 9,000 World War II service members are buried, is closed during the shutdown. It is one of 24 overseas cemeteries overseen stateside by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Antarctica: Essential.

The website for the National Science Foundation may be on ice, but its researchers in Antarctica are not. Well, figuratively at least. Literally, yes, still frequently on ice. Anyway, the NSF oversees three separate facilities on the frozen continent, and while much of the agency has been sidelined, its support for Antarctic researchers has been deemed essential. For now.

Antarctica: Nonessential?

Well, soon the "on ice" thing may just be literal and figurative. On Wednesday, the NSF changed course and announced that if the shutdown is still going on as of October 14, all Antarctic research and travel will be suspended. The freeze also covers the flights that bring supplies into Antarctica. In a statement, the NSF said its program will be placed in "caretaker status," meaning facilities "will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government."

Because if it can't happen in America, it's nice to know government will at least be preserved in Antarctica.

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