- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2013

While the possibility looms that all but essential functions of the federal government will screech to a halt Tuesday, the District is poised to entirely dodge the shutdown.

The District, as a federal enclave, is subject to the shutdown, but lawmakers have touted three different approaches that look as if they will keep the city’s more than 30,000 employees at work.

The first option would keep city services functioning by declaring all employees essential. Under the federal Antideficiency Act, which prohibits spending if an appropriations plan is not in place, services and employees meeting certain criteria can be kept on the job if they are deemed essential personnel.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray submitted a contingency plan to federal authorities last week that deems all city employees “excepted” and would keep them on the job. The Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for providing executive branch agencies with instructions on how to prepare for and operate during a shutdown, had not issued a response to the plan as of Friday. But the mayor’s camp was in discussions with the office that have thus far left officials feeling optimistic.

“We’re talking with them. We’re working with them,” Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said. “We expect that they will support our plan.”

In case the office doesn’t agree, the D.C. Council is ready to offer a backup plan that will keep the city running.

On Tuesday, the council is expected to introduce and discuss an emergency bill that would also deem city employees essential and would authorize the city to pay employees for their work during a shutdown with money from the District’s contingency cash reserve fund.

The fund — used for “nonrecurring or unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year” — contains about $144 million, or enough to keep the city running for approximately nine days.

The District furloughed nonessential personnel during a six-day federal government shutdown in November 1995. The city was able to avert a similar situation during the last federal government shutdown, from December 1995 to January 1996, when federal legislation was passed allowing the city to use its own local funds to stay open.

A similar measure — though unlikely to pass — is currently under consideration. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting congressional representative, introduced similar legislation this month to avoid a city shutdown.

Mrs. Norton asked Congress to pass her District of Columbia Government Shutdown Avoidance Act of 2013 while speaking on the House floor Thursday, saying that the fact the city can in effect be held hostage by the federal government “violates ever principal of federalism.”

“This is a matter of history and anachronism that nobody should be proud of,” Mrs. Norton said. “There is not anything about the D.C. budget that has summoned it to the Congress. It comes because it has always come.”

Despite Mrs. Norton’s speech, the bill has not moved out of committee.

Note: An earlier version of this report cited an outdated figure for the amount of money in the city’s contingency cash reserve fund. The error has been corrected.



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