October 17, 2013

Public getting the message when calling for government assistance

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Call a federal office these days and you’ll probably hear a recorded voice saying that the place is closed for the duration of the government shutdown.

click image to enlarge

The Department of Commerce in Portland sits closed with a note apologizing for the inconvenience Friday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Some of the recordings are cheerful, if a bit robotic, and full of helpful information.

The message at the Internal Revenue Service politely reminds late taxpayers that the shutdown won’t help them one bit.

“Due to the current budget situation, all IRS offices are closed,” a woman says brightly. “Under federal law, all tax payment and filing deadlines remain in effect during this period. People should file their taxes as normal.

“This includes the Oct. 15 deadline for Form 1040 extension filers.”

Other recordings, particularly those at smaller offices, are more personal.

Word choice and tone of voice reflect the frustration and disappointment of people who have been sent home without knowing when they will work again.

That’s the case when you call the local Property Management Division of the Government Services Administration, which has an office on Federal Street in Portland.

“Due to a temporary government shutdown, I am not in the office and I’m not able to respond to voicemails or emails,” says a man with a distinctive Maine drawl.

He goes on to offer alternative contacts, including the Government Services Administration website.

Then, he lets out a heavy sigh and continues, “Otherwise, please leave me a message and I’ll respond when I’m back in the office.

“Thank you for your patience. Bye.”

Jeff Porter at the Export Assistance Center on Congress Street sounds equally regretful. He works for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“I do apologize for any inconvenience,” Porter says in his message.

Some federal offices remain open and continue to operate for now, in some cases with skeleton crews. They include border patrol, customs officials, federal courts and Social Security offices.

Websites for federal agencies offer a variety of information about the shutdown. Some show their contingency plans emblazoned in red. Others have made their operational status a little harder to find, but it’s there.

It’s unclear how some of the closed federal offices plan to address emergencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“The Federal Communications Commission is closed. We regret any inconvenience,” a woman says in a professional tone.

She then gives another number to call, in Washington, “if this is an FCC-related emergency that may pose an imminent danger to life or property.”

At the OSHA office in Augusta, a man explains, “Due to suspension of federal government services, we are unable to answer your calls directly.”

He also gives another number to call, “if you need to report a workplace fatality, hospitalization or imminent-danger situation.”

Or you can leave a message, he says.

“We’ll return your call as soon as possible.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

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