Before the Handover Comes the Sleepover

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 18, 2009

As night falls on inauguration eve, a government slumber party of historic dimensions will begin. Nearly 6,000 soldiers will unroll their sleeping bags in D.C. schools. Homeland Security employees will climb onto bunk beds in trailers. FBI agents will stretch out on cots in a District church hall.

And at the National Museum of American History, a few employees will live the ultimate childhood fantasy: a sleepover in a building with 5,000 musical instruments and a 1,354-piece doll's house.

With hotel rates sky-high and major bridges and streets closed, many government employees have concluded there is only one sure way to get to their workplaces Tuesday: sleep there. Even officials with decades of experience in Washington said they can't recall anything similar.

"This is a unique one for all of us," said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who has rented hundreds of cots for congressional employees.

Tuesday is a holiday for most federal and local government employees. But thousands have to provide security for the expected record crowds, run the inauguration ceremony and carry out other government functions.

They are joining numerous private-sector employees who will also bed down at their workplaces: hotel workers, hairdressers, nurses, chefs, nursing-home employees.

"Many people are going to be shacking up, shall we say," said Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. She has been here for other inaugurations. But this one, she said, is "once-in-a-millennium."

Cynthia Brock-Smith lives east of the Anacostia River, just a few miles from downtown. But she works on Pennsylvania Avenue, which will be closed at 1 p.m. tomorrow as part of the unprecedented security arrangements. She needs to be on the job early Tuesday -- just as crowds will be surging toward the parade route.

"We could be standing in line at a magnetometer with thousands of people in front of us at a time when we should be in the building, working," said Brock-Smith, secretary to the D.C. Council.

Her solution: "I'm planning to bring my air bed" and camp out in the Wilson Building.

Chris Geldart, head of the D.C. regional office at the Department of Homeland Security, scrambled to find hotel rooms for his workers who might not be able to drive or squeeze on to Metro trains. But he couldn't accommodate them all.

"Cost. That was the issue," he said.

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