Keeping D.C. Open

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Mayor Vincent Gray has just informed federal officials that all D.C. government operations are “essential,” meaning that he intends the District government to remain fully open in the event of a shutdown next week.

DC Appleseed is thrilled with the passion and commitment expressed by the Mayor and the Council on this issue because we share it completely. It’s unjust and absurd that the local government risks closing over completely unrelated disagreements among federal officials.

At the same time, we hope the District will hedge its bets on this issue by using all available legal authority to protect the District from a shutdown. It’s possible that federal officials will reject the Mayor’s determination that all D.C. government operations are “essential.” It’s also possible that the Attorney General and CFO may disagree with that determination and not allow District funds to be used to pay for those operations.

Fortunately, we think there’s an additional tool District officials can use to make sure the District government stays open.

Federal law allows the District and all federal agencies to spend money pursuant to an appropriation or fund. The District has several emergency and contingency funds that Congress has created and has already funded through District appropriations acts in prior years. These funds hold nearly $300 million and can be tapped into to address emergency circumstances and meet unexpected needs–such as a government shutdown.

Since this money comes from funds that have already been duly appropriated, using this money now to pay District employees and keep the District government running would be consistent with the law. And there would be no need to determine which employees are “essential,” since the money from these funds can be used to pay all District employees, whether “essential” or not. Furthermore, the funds can promptly be replenished whenever Congress finally enacts D.C.’s local budget.

The Mayor and CFO can start the process to tap these funds now by sending a resolution to the Council. Once the Council approves that resolution, the District will have money to stay open–even if the federal government shuts down.

We hope District officials will take this additional approach. It will help make sure that the District government continues to serve the people who rely on it.

– Walter Smith

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