Government shutdown 2013: Mayor Gray defends move to make city operations essential

Photo: JW0915/Flickr

(WJLA) - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray continued Thursday his push for each of the city's employees to be considered essential if the federal government shuts down next week, saying that it makes no rational sense for the District's normal operations to be hampered by Congress.

Gray called into NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt on NewsChannel 8 on Thursday and said that the painstaking process of establishing a budget overwhelmingly supported by resident tax dollars is cause for declaring all of the city's operations essential.

"If they weren't, we wouldn't be making these investments," Gray told DePuyt and his guest, WAMU 88.5 reporter Patrick Madden. "If (some city employees) weren't important, why are they on the payroll in the first place?"

In a letter sent to the director of the federal Office for Management and Budget on Wednesday, Gray indicated that he is planning to declare all operations and employees in the District of Columbia as essential, paving the way for them to stay on the job even of the government shuts down.

That might happen on Oct. 1 if Congress doesn't pass a stopgap spending bill. Since the District's spending is appropriated by Congress, many city services, including recreation centers, libraries and trash collection, would stop until the government reopened.

It's a situation that Gray finds untenable, and he used the closure of recreation centers as an example of how inconsistent he believes the idea of essential versus non-essential workers is.

"A child is being served in a classroom - those education employees are declared essential," Gray said. "After 3:30, those same children need services at recreation centers. If those workers are non-essential, the rec centers are closed."

The mayor said that he is ready to make the case to OMB if they decide against his decision.

"I want to make a more protracted, extensive case for why these people are important and need to be at work," Gray said.

Gray's declaration would fly in the face of the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government or government agencies from spending with a lack of appropriations. Madden said that it's one thing for the mayor and the D.C. Council to face arrest or punishment if the law is defied, but wanted to know if Gray is willing to ask city employees to do the same.

The mayor said he hoped it would never come to that point and said that the city would cross that bridge when they came to it.

"I hope reasonable people at OMB would say that we made a solid case," Gray said. "The larger question is why we're here in the first place; hopefully this will take us to the threshold of being exempted all together."