Even greater lines could develop at the Capitol’s front steps, where tourists turned away from closed Smithsonian museums may instead gather to visit what could be Washington, D.C.’s sole open federal building.
“We anticipate a lot of people will want to do that,” Gainer said. “I think there will be interest because of what’s going on in the Senate, and I think there will be interest because no one else has anywhere to go.”
But since the Capitol Visitor Center would close and the tour guides would be furloughed, only staff- and Member-led tours would be available — a tall order for meager staffs as the building has averaged more than 25,000 visitors per week since August.
Also on the furlough short list would be employees of the Senate barbershop and information technology workers who help Members and staff fix malfunctioning electronics. But Gainer said he’s not too worried about the latter: “People won’t be able to use their BlackBerrys so that should lessen the strain.”
Not on the chopping block, Gainer said, is essential security needed for continuity of operations in case of an emergency or a terrorist attack.
“All the kind of things that go on from a security perspective to make sure Congress can run or relocate, we have to be prepared to do that,” Gainer said.
Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers said the roughly 2,400 AOC employees would be reduced to just hundreds.
“Our administrative staff, our grounds staff would be nonessential,” Ayers said. “Our Botanic Garden would be closed so much of their staff would be nonessential.”
Workers who televise debate and maintain the legislative clock would be on the job, as would fire protection engineers and maintenance mechanics who protect the buildings.
Ayers didn’t know which construction projects would carry on and which would grind to a halt. Regulations allow projects funded over multiple years — for instance, the utility tunnel modernization efforts — to continue. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they would, Ayers said.
“The project may be multiyear funded and could legally continue, but if they require the support of our enabling infrastructure, such as our project managers or our accounting folks to pay bills ... if they’re not here and able to support then we wouldn’t continue with that project until the lapse in appropriation is over,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.