In the District, Closings shut door on services; City furloughs 13,000 workers

By Paul Duggan
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 11:09 AM

From The Washington Post archives

Published: November 15, 1995, Wednesday, Final Edition

The D.C. government shutdown, Day One:

It wasn't a shutdown, exactly. It was a partial shutdown -- but partial enough to anger people who weren't sure which District agencies would be open yesterday and which wouldn't, and who showed up at municipal offices looking for services that weren't available.

With GOP congressional leaders and President Clinton unable to agree on short-term federal spending legislation, a host of cash-strapped District agencies were forced to cut staffing, public libraries and the Department of Motor Vehicles were closed, and the Department of Public Works suspended road repairs, trash collection and other services.

The city did an about-face, however, on parking tickets. After initially saying that parking enforcement aides would be furloughed, officials announced overnight that the 78 aides, who each write about $ 1,400 worth of parking tickets a day, would be out checking meters as usual.

By furloughing about 13,000 of its 39,000 workers, the city saved about $ 1.2 million yesterday, officials said. But the 26,000 workers who were kept on their jobs cost the city about $ 4.4 million in "uncovered expenses."

So the city, dependent on a technically broke federal government for money, spent a bundle of cash that it didn't have.

And it was miserable outside.

It was cold. It was raining.

"If this is the way our government works, no wonder the country is so screwed up," said Janet Burke, 32, wet and shivering outside the locked doors of the Municipal Center, at 301 C St. NW, at 10 a.m. Her husband John, 37, stood with her. His hair was drenched, and rivulets of rainwater were running down his forehead and into his eyes.

He told a story about moving here with his wife from North Carolina not long agoand losing his wallet and needing an identification card from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is in the Municipal Center. He said he wasn't completely up to speed on the federal budget impasse and didn't know the city had furloughed about one-third of its work force.

"When are they opening again?" Janet Burke asked. It depends on Clinton and the GOP budget leaders in Congress. The two sides continued negotiating yesterday, but little progress was reported on a spending compromise.

"That's something," said Janet Burke, and her husband said, "That's something." They looked at each other and John Burke said, "They should have put it on the radio or something," and his wife said, "Yeah."

Then they turned up the collars of their waist-length jackets and walked away, and other people showed up at the Municipal Center and couldn't get in, and this kept happening all day in the rain.

Elsewhere, accused lawbreakers got their day in D.C. Superior Court, which remained open, as did D.C. General Hospital, St. Elizabeths Hospital and the D.C. Village nursing home. D.C. police and firefighters were on duty -- and, this being the cash-starved District of Columbia, so were D.C. Lottery workers and other "essential" (that is, revenue-generating) employees.

Public schools were open, and administrative employees had to work. Beginning today, though, only administrators designated "essential" are required to report to work. Health clinics were closed because they do not provide emergency care.

"It seems to have gone very well," City Administrator Michael C. Rogers said of the city's partial shutdown. He said that city service needs will be reviewed daily if the crisis continues and that eventually some core services, such as trash collection and health inspections, may be resumed.

The lobby of the Frank D. Reeves Center, at 14th and U streets NW, which houses several D.C. government offices, was unusually quiet yesterday. "Where are you going?" a police officer barked at anyone approaching the building's elevators.

"Everything is closed today."

The Department of Public Works, which occupies several floors of the building, was virtually empty. Leslie Hotaling, of the solid waste division, said she was there to check on something but planned to leave shortly.

"We were told not to come in," she said.

Elsewhere in the department, the city's trash collection was suspended for a day. But, after a Ward 4 community meeting, Mayor Marion Barry repeated his pledge to keep garbage from piling up. Should the shutdown go beyond three days, he said, trash trucks will roll again.

As for whether city workers eventually will get paid for their time off, Barry said, "We're governed by the federal government's action and unless the federal government authorizes it, D.C. workers are going to be in a bind." The partial government shutdown gave area retail stores a boost. Christopher Borgal, assistant property manager of Georgetown Park Mall, said business was booming. "We've had a great day," he said. " . . . At lunch I had three buses of Japanese tourists."

J. Barrington Wilder got up at 4:45 a.m. yesterday, donned a suit and bow tie and made his weekly trek here from Baltimore to pay the tax on the cases of liquor he sells to hotels and restaurants in the District.

The 84-year-old sales director for Atlantic Wine and Spirits braved traffic and slippery roads for two hours and was greeted by a security guard at the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on H Street in Chinatown. Sorry. Closed.

"I feel terrible," Wilder said. "I have nothing to do with the federal government. I am a liquor wholesaler." He turned to leave the building. "I have been doing this since 1938," he said, "and I have never had a problem."

He stepped outside, in the rain, headed for his car.

Staff writers Marcia Davis, Hamil R. Harris, Sari Horwitz, Howard Schneider and Linda Wheeler contributed to this report.

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