As federal employees around Washington and across the country try to figure out whether they’ll be deemed “essential” if the government shuts down Friday night, aides to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) now know for certain — they’ll be working.

Technically, only congressional employees deemed vital to lawmakers’ performing their constitutional responsibilities are supposed to stay on duty during a shutdown, with the rest sent home without pay. But members of Congress — and delegates — have wide lattitude in determining which of their staffers are essential, and Norton informed her aides Thursday that all of them deserve that label.

“The burden and the responsibilities of the staff that represent the District of Columbia are always greater than for other districts,” Norton said in a press release. “We represent a district that has no senators and only one member of Congress. With our local government also facing a shutdown, we cannot abandon our constituents, who may need us now more than ever. We hope that federal employees who have been deemed essential will be paid retroactively, although there is certainly no guarantee.”

Though the effects of a shutdown would be felt nationwide, the impact would be particularly acute in the District, which by law cannot spend locally raised tax money during a shutdown. Norton has tried repeatedly in recent weeks, without success, to get House Republican leaders to move legislation authorizing D.C. to spend its own money.

Norton’s full memo to her staff follows:





DATE: April 7, 2011

RE: Federal Government Shutdown

As you know, there is a strong possibility that the federal government and Congress will shut down on Saturday, April 9th. Each Member may decide on “essential staff.” All staff in our office is essential and both our Hill and District offices will be open and keep normal hours in the event of a shutdown.

The burden and the responsibilities of staff that represents the District of Columbia are always greater than for other districts. We represent a district that has no senators and only one Member of Congress. Our local government also faces a shutdown, even though the current fight in Congress is exclusively about federal funds. We cannot abandon our constituents, who may need us even more now.

I am co-sponsor of a bill that requires that members of Congress not [be] paid during a federal government shutdown. So far, that bill has passed the Senate, but not the House. However, like federal agency employees, you will not be paid during the shutdown, even though, unlike other federal employees, you will be working. Although not a guarantee, the declaration of “essential,” provides greater likelihood that employees will get paid retroactively while furloughed employees might not get compensated.

Your work is vital to D.C. residents and to me to carry out my constitutional responsibilities as a member of Congress. We must always be working and available to the residents of the District of Columbia. I know that they are grateful for your service. I am grateful, in addition, for your special sacrifice.