The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington region knows how a shutdown feels. And it’s not good.

Birds fly in front of the dome of the U.S. Capitol
Birds fly in front of the dome of the U.S. Capitol ( /AFP/Getty Images)
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Washington-area residents and elected officials tried to prepare Friday for the effects of a federal government shutdown, a familiar possibility that keeps thousands of residents from being paid, costs contractors serious money and leaves restaurants and businesses with far fewer customers.

While Congressional leaders and top White House officials huddled in last-minute discussions, the people who call Washington home year-round were getting ready for the worst.

There are about 283,500 federal employees in the Washington region, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The potential loss in economic activity adds up to about $150 million per day, said Terry Clower, director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis.

"That's a big thing," Clower said. "Do you recapture some of that down the road? Maybe. But it gives you an order of magnitude of what's happening day-to-day."

Prince George's County resident Wanda McClary said she has been pulling as many extra shifts as she can as a security guard at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, knowing that a shutdown means the museum could close and the 52-year-old and her colleagues would face their own financial shortfall.

"We have no idea what will happen," said McClary, who lives in District Heights. "The only thing that saves me is that I love what I do."

With funds already tight in a local economy hampered by $13 billion in federal cuts since 2013, many local and state officials expressed anger at the current budget impasse in Congress that, for their governments, either means shutting down programs that rely on federal dollars or footing the bill to keep them open.

"Marylanders are sick and tired of Washington's dysfunctional blame games," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement, echoing — but in a bipartisan way — Democrats in the state legislature who earlier in the week sent a letter to President Trump and GOP leaders in Congress declaring: "Enough is Enough."

"Let me be very clear to everyone in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats — stop the finger-pointing and do your jobs," Hogan said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said even the talk of a shutdown is causing too much instability in the region.

"I just don't think there's any excuse," Northam told reporters Friday afternoon. "It bothers me not only as the governor of Virginia but also as a business person."

Short-term fixes, he said, such as a 30-day continuing resolution are "just unacceptable."

In 2013, when the government shut down for 16 days, several thousand federal employees in the Washington area were furloughed. In addition, dozens of government contractors laid off employees after the subsequent cuts in federal spending that meant scaling down or killing some projects.

That translated into less disposable income for the region as a whole, leaving restaurants, shopping malls and other businesses with lower profits and sending fewer tax dollars into local government coffers for schools and other services.

"More than anything, the uncertainty and the confusion that results from a shutdown is something we just don't need," said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "We've had enough uncertainty and difficulty with the federal government's cutting back on contracting and cutting back on federal spending, and this on top of it is not good for our local government's well being."

District officials projected a cost to the city of about $100,000 per week as D.C. workers step in to pick up the trash at about 126 National Park Service sites and, potentially, maintain roads that are normally taken care of by the federal government, like Beach Drive.

"I want to be perfectly clear that Washington, D.C., is open," Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said .

"D.C. government will continue to provide services to our residents, the services that they expect and deserve, uninterrupted," she said, adding that her administration expects to be reimbursed by the federal government for whatever costs it incurs.

Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said he will take steps similar to what he did during the last shutdown, such as placing the Department of Housing on high alert to identify households that may not be able to pay their mortgage or rent.

"A shutdown impacts us greater than any other place in the region," Baker said. The county is home to 75,000 federal workers, 27,000 federal jobs and hundreds of small and medium-size businesses that rely on the federal government for contract work. In many families, both parents work for the government and are on the higher end of the pay scale.

At the same time, Baker expressed support for Democrats in Congress who have refused to agree to a spending bill that does not include protections for young immigrants and children at risk of losing health insurance.

"These are critical issues that need to be dealt with," Baker said. "Congress needs to do its job. This is no way to run a government."

Nearly as many federal workers — about 73,500 — live in neighboring Montgomery County. "To the extent that this becomes a prolonged crisis, that could have a very damaging effect on the county," said Council President Hans Riemer (D-At Large). "Any adverse decisions they make have an effect on us."

In Arlington County, tourists may be kept from visiting some local attractions, said county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith, which in turn would affect sales tax revenue. The Arlington National Cemetery will remain open during any shutdown, according to the cemetery website.

Ivonne Grande, assistant manager at the Pie Five pizzeria in the L'Enfant Plaza food court, said a shutdown would reduce business at the federal government complex to a trickle. In turn, that could lead to shorter hours for workers or layoffs, she said.

 "About 60 percent of our customers are government workers, and the other 40 percent are tourists," Grande said.

Nearby, a cluster of federal employees prepared for their weekend uncertain about whether they would be reporting for work on Monday.

Some gleefully hoped for a few days off, trading notes about the previous government shutdowns in 2013 and 1995 and making tentative plans to catch a movie or visit a (nongovernment) museum if another shutdown occurs.

Others worried about their mortgages and how they'll feed their kids if they go too long without pay.

"By the time you get to that fifth or sixth week, you've got to be real frugal," said Grady Bryant, who works for the Department of Homeland Security and has been through two shutdowns.

Dana Kegler, a management program analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, said she was upset about the possibility of a shutdown because political theatrics are threatening "people's livelihoods."

"It's a showdown, and what's at stake is folks who could be out of work," she said. "It's a cat-and-mouse game that isn't cool."

Arelis R. Hernández, Gregory Schneider, Rachel Siegel and Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.