The pounds and pounds of garbage left over the weekend on the manicured grass fields around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial were a sight Ted Sampley found hard to bear yesterday.
Federal government shutdown or not, federal park rangers or not, federal garbage collectors or not, Sampley, chairman of the National Steering Committee for American War Veterans, and 14 like-minded volunteers decided the trash needed to go.
In less than two hours they stuffed trash into about 100 39-gallon plastic garbage bags. Then they drove their white Ford van, the one emblazoned with a bold "POW" logo, over the grass onto the pavement, the way they had watched trash collectors do for years. After a brief conversation with Park Police officers, who wondered what was going on, they piled the bags next to a nearby refreshment stand.
"We feel that it's just something we ought to do," said Sampley. "It just makes it look so bad with the garbage piling up, the stinking, and the bees."
Yesterday was the third day of the federal government shutdown caused by a failure of Congress and the president to agree on a stopgap funding measure or a deficit-reducing budget resolution.
Because most federal agencies were closed for the three-day Columbus Day weekend, the National Park Service and the national parks, which were open but largely unstaffed, were among the few visible signs of the shutdown.
Park Service spokesman Duncan Morrow said yesterday that the shutdown had caused a $1.6 million loss in revenue -- "a rough estimate" he called it -- in park visitor fees.
On the lawn in the Mall area, the expanse of grass that stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, the refuse of the shutdown was all around. The service's trash collectors and the maintenance crew that normally care for the restrooms had been laid off.
"If they don't find a solution" to the crisis "in two or three days," Sampley said, "we're going to hire a private contractor to take it away, or use T-shirt sales to hire someone."
But by early this morning, Congress and the president had agreed to the provisions of a stopgap funding measure extending last year's budget until Oct. 19. The Senate approved it on a voice vote, and the House passed it in time for Bush's expected signature before working hours began today.
Although some federal employees, especially political appointees, have said they believed they might be expected to volunteer on days that they are laid off, it would be illegal for them to do so.
The law forbids volunteer work because of possible liability problems. It also was designed to prevent supervisors from forcing employees to work without pay.
It is up to department and agency heads to determine who should remain on the job in a shutdown, based on a 1981 Office of Management and Budget directive that defines "essential" employees as those needed "to ensure continued public health and safety."