Wednesday, January 17, 2001

More than 300,000 federal workers are being asked to take annual leave, comp time or an unpaid day off tomorrow to avoid gridlock expected after President-elect George W. Bush’s opening inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial.

Janice R. Lachance, director of the federal Office of Personnel Management, made the decision late yesterday, OPM spokesman Joseph Cowart said.

“This is our response to the situation,” Mr. Cowart said of expected traffic problems resulting from thousands of people attending inaugural ceremonies. “If they are forced to come in, they are forced to come in.”

Federal employees average 13 to 19 paid annual leave days a year, Mr. Cowart said.

Memorial Bridge, which links Independence Avenue SW to Arlington National Cemetery, will be closed from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow for the opening ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial, said Sgt. Rob MacLean of the U.S. Park Police.

“It will be quite a challenge to get people out of the city,” he said.

Police sources said the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, which links Georgetown to Interstate 66, also will be closed tomorrow, but exact times had not yet been made final.

The 14th Street Bridge is expected to remain open.

The D.C. Emergency Management Agency met yesterday to decide which roads to close tomorrow and Saturday, Inauguration Day, but had not released an official list as of late last night. The agency still needed to get the plan approved by city police, the Secret Service and Park Service.

Sgt. MacLean said Metropolitan Police Department Chief Charles H. Ramsey has requested that OPM send federal workers home early tomorrow.

City officials said they had not yet decided whether employees would be off tomorrow or which streets would be closed for the four-day inaugural celebration.

“Our concern is the well-being of the work force,” Mr. Cowart said.

Organizers expect more than 200,000 people to attend opening ceremonies that begin tomorrow afternoon with a concert by pop singer Ricky Martin and a fireworks display at the Lincoln Memorial.

The festivities will start at 3 p.m. and end at the peak of the afternoon rush hour 6 p.m.

“That was just poor planning,” Mr. Cowart said of the inaugural committee’s decision to stage the opening ceremonies just before rush hour tomorrow. “At one point, we asked the [committee] to change their schedule.”

Mr. Cowart said Ms. Lachance decided on the liberal leave policy after consulting with the Secret Service, city officials, police and the inaugural committee.

With another 150,000 people expected to converge on the city by Saturday, some federal and city officials had talked about giving employees Friday off as well. But Mr. Cowart said federal workers are expected to report on time Friday morning.

“Friday is not even under discussion, in any shape or form,” he said.

An employee at the Justice Department who asked not to be identified said she was dismayed the OPM decided so late, having known of the Bush-Cheney transition team’s plans for some time.

The employee said she probably won’t take the day off tomorrow, but feels bad for those who have no choice but to come to work. “I think that most people who do not have the leave available won’t take it and will suffer whatever problems they have in travel,” she said.

Inaugural committee spokeswoman Michele Stember said those attending events should take public transportation.

“The Metro is your best friend,” said inaugural committee spokeswoman Michele Stember, rebuffing criticism that tomorrow’s festivities were poorly planned. “I think this incredible team has done the best to try and make this celebration happen in the best way possible for everyone involved.”

Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said the transit agency will make plans to handle tomorrow’s traffic.

Mr. Feldmann said Metro most likely will run a normal schedule because of the federal government’s liberal leave policy, but the swelling crowds going to the opening ceremonies could pose a problem.

“The buses are subjected to the same tie-ups and same congestion as are automobiles,” Mr. Feldmann said. “We hope people will be patient and recognize there is a lot of traffic around the Lincoln Memorial. It’s going to be a little congested.”

Mr. Feldmann said Metro will encourage riders to use stations other than Foggy Bottom and to board a shuttle that will take them to the ceremonies.

• John Drake and Steve Miller contributed to this report.

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