A shutdown wouldn’t immediately affect D.C. government after mayor taps reserves

October 1, 2013

The District government will not close during the federal shutdown — meaning trash will be collected, permits and licenses will be issued, and city offices will remain open.

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

The decision to remain open came after city lawyers on Friday approved the use of a special reserve fund, containing $218 million or more, to keep the District 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.

City finance officials estimate that the fund can support normal government operations for nine business days — through Oct. 13.

The District’s human resources office told employees Monday afternoon that city agencies “will continue to operate on a regular schedule until further notice” and that workers “will be paid on the normal timeline.”

In the past, federal shutdowns have threatened to close the District government 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, he said, include avoiding the effects of a federal shutdown.

Once Congress acts to reauthorize spending, officials said, the emergency fund will be fully replenished. But if the federal shutdown lasts long enough to deplete the reserve fund, Nathan said, the city will be forced into shutdown mode.

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

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council is set to vote on emergency legislation that will declare all city employees exempt from shutdown furloughs and authorize use of the reserve fund. But Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) acknowledged Monday that the vote is largely symbolic because of Gray’s request to the budget office and the fact that the mayor has sole control of the reserve fund.

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

Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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