The Ripple Effect: Empty Halls, Lost Money, Discontent

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By David Montgomery
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 10:20 AM

From The Washington Post archives

Published: November 15, 1995, Wednesday, Final Edition

They read the official bad news in a blizzard of computer messages that hit around 9:30 a.m. yesterday. By noon they were gone: 150,000 government workers streaming out of office buildings and laboratories across the area on the day the federal factories closed in this company town.

Some effects of the first government shutdown in five years could be measured immediately: The government lost money as it paid to turn off the lights and close parks. Security guards and computer babysitters were the only people left in once-teeming federal complexes. Downtown hotels and lunch counters around federal installations lost business. More than 4,000 ticket holders to the biggest show of Johannes Vermeer's painting in three centuries got locked out of the National Gallery of Art.

The budget impasse is affecting an additional 650,000 federal workers across the country in places as varied as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Texas and the Statue of Liberty in New York. The computer system at the Library of Congress, which has 1 million transactions a day, went off line as soon as official word of the shutdown arrived. Each day the government is shut down, about 22,000 people will be unable to get passports and 28,000 won't be able to apply for Social Security benefits.

Companies that do business with the government will face payment delays. Several federal agencies faxed "stop work" orders to contractors here and across the country, bringing many programs to a halt and phasing others down to minimum levels.

"I think it's just a waste; it's just a waste," Pat Dever, an information management specialist at the Department of Education, said of the nation's penchant for government shutdowns. "It's a game we've played before. It's an American folkway."

In downtown Washington, the furloughed masses began filling Metro's Smithsonian station, looking for a ride home, just minutes after the end of the morning rush hour that had brought them to work.

A woman heading from her office to the train platform repeatedly muttered under her breath, "This is stupid; this is stupid."


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