D.C. government would remain open under federal shutdown

September 30, 2013

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has determined that the District government will not close during a federal shutdown – meaning trash will be collected, permits and licenses will be issued and city offices will remain open regardless of whether Congress reaches an accord.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images).
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

“Unless somebody takes me out in handcuffs, I’m not shutting down anything,” Gray said Saturday during a Potomac River cruise with a group of civic leaders.

The decision to remain open comes after city lawyers on Friday approved the use of a special reserve fund, totaling $144 million, to keep the city operational during a federal shutdown. Separately, Gray has sought to designate all of the city’s 32,000 employees as exempt from shutdown furloughs – a decision that, if accepted by President Obama’s budget office, could render use of the reserve fund unnecessary.

In the past, federal shutdowns have threatened to close the District government as well, because the city budget is ultimately set by Congress. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan issued a memo Friday determining that the reserve fund is available for use even outside of normal congressional appropriations because, according to the District’s charter, its contents “roll over from year to year and remain available until expended for statutorily authorized purposes” – which include, he said, avoiding a federal shutdown.

Once Congress acts to reauthorize spending, officials said, the emergency fund would be fully replenished. But if the federal shutdown lasts long enough to deplete the reserve fund, Nathan said, the city would be forced into shutdown mode. City finance officials estimate the fund can support normal government operations for nine business days – through Oct. 13.

The city had yet to receive a response Monday from the Obama administration on the move to declare all city employees exempt. Gray said Friday he had spoken to Obama budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell about the matter but had gotten no indication of the administration’s posture.

The D.C. Council is set to vote Friday on emergency legislation that would mirror Gray’s moves, declaring all city employees exempt from shutdown furloughs and authorizing use of the reserve fund. But Chairman Phil Mendelson acknowledged that the vote is largely symbolic, given Gray’s request to the budget office and the fact the mayor has sole control of the reserve fund.

“It’s a statement of the council that we agree with the mayor,” he said.

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Josh Hicks · September 30, 2013