D.C. and the Shutdown
Jack Evans Report
Despite numerous warnings and ample time to fix the situation, the federal government has shut down indefinitely. I hope that by the time the Georgetowner goes to print, this situation will have been rectified, but as of the morning of Oct. 4 there is no end in sight. In addition to all the damage that will be done to our economy and to our financial markets due to uncertainty and reductions in consumer spending, the shutdown underscores the continuing inequity in the treatment of the District of Columbia versus other states in the country. Unless the District government is specifically carved out by federal legislation, it has to prepare a shutdown plan when the federal government shuts down, designating employees as “essential” and “non-essential,” as if we were just another federal agency. To counter this, the Council, with the support of the Mayor, has taken the bold move of declaring all District government employees to be essential, effectively rejecting the premise that the District of Columbia is just another federal instrumentality.
As a legislature, we have done what we can to bolster our government’s position in navigating the current and any potential future shut down. Last year, we passed the Local Budget Autonomy Amendment Act of 2012. This legislation will provide for Congress to review our budget bills in the same way that it reviews ordinary legislation – specifically, after two votes by the Council, our budget would go to Congress for a 30-day review. Unfortunately, the Budget Autonomy Act is not effective until January 1, 2014, so it does not help us with the current shut down. As a result, on October 1, 2013, the Council took up the “Federal Shutdown Response Emergency Act of 2013.” The emergency legislation provides for continued operations pending the enactment of the Budget Autonomy Act. The bill declares all personnel and activities of the District government to be essential. Just as important, the bill authorizes compensation to be paid during a lapse in appropriations out of the contingency cash reserve fund. The provisions of this emergency expire as of January 1, 2014, as the District will no longer need such a bill when the budget autonomy legislation is enacted, authorizing our expenditure of local dollars.
What does this mean for residents? Depending on the way you count the money, we can operate until about the end of October before we need a new federal appropriation. This should mean that the local government is open for business as usual, at least for now. Certain agencies, however, such as the D.C. court system, are operating separately from District authority and shut down plans. I have heard from constituents, for example, who have been unable to file for marriage licenses or get their wedding officiants certified. This is a ridiculous result from a federal shutdown that has nothing to do with our local government. I am still hopeful that the shut down will be resolved in a matter of days, but please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with specific questions about government operations or for help navigating any difficulties you have in dealing with the government in coming days.