NATO summit expected to clog D.C.

Government is asking many federal workers to stay home April 23

April 02, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- To free up the streets, ensure that subway passengers aren't jammed together and ease the traffic congestion that residents could face when thousands of dignitaries flock here for NATO's 50th anniversary, the government is asking 90,000 of its employees for a favor: On April 23, stay home.

That Friday marks the opening of NATO's mammoth three-day anniversary summit that is expected to draw up to 42 heads of state, 2,000 of their delegates and more than 1,000 foreign journalists to the city. It will be the largest international summit ever held in Washington.

Besides adopting a leave policy for federal workers, planners yesterday warned anyone who was planning a trip to Washington that weekend not to do it -- please.

"If you don't have pressing business," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Garrett, vice director of the summit planning group, "it's best to schedule your visit for another time."

Though April 23 is expected to be the worst day for traffic, there will be "significant street closures" from late April 22 through late April 25, primarily around the Federal Triangle area of downtown, Garrett said.

In addition, the Federal Triangle subway station that serves many museums along Constitution Avenue will be closed throughout the weekend, though all museums are expected to remain open. Traffic will also be slowed as delegations are ferried from one meeting or gala to another.

Planners hope to ward off some of the mess with the federal leave policy. Rather than dodging motorcades to get to work, nonessential employees at federal agencies nearest the events are likely to be given the day off -- with pay and without having to consume a vacation day. Individual supervisors, however, will have final say on whether employees can take advantage of the policy.

The policy applies to about 90,000 employees in buildings within or adjacent to a designated zone that runs roughly from the White House to the Washington Monument and east along the National Mall halfway to the Capitol. Major offices encompassed by this Nevada-shaped chunk of the city include headquarters of the departments of Interior, Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation.

About 7,500 nonessential city employees in this area will be granted the day off with pay, too. And thousands of federal employees elsewhere in Washington and in Arlington, Va., will be urged to use compensatory or vacation time or work by telephone from a telecommuting center.

Employees at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and in federal offices elsewhere in Maryland will not be affected. Private employers in the city will not be asked to close April 23, but planners said they would appreciate help in keeping traffic volume to a minimum.

Because the bulk of the summit takes place on the weekend, the effect on residents should be endurable, organizers stressed. "Friday is the only day we really have to take strong, proactive measures," said Janice Lachance, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

With the temperatures seasonable and the cherry blossoms blooming, April draws more visitors to Washington than any other month. But tourists who hope to make the NATO summit a centerpiece, or even a part of their spring vacation, might be in for a rude surprise: Almost all the events are closed to the public.

Private social gatherings have been planned by President Clinton and Mayor Anthony A. Williams. And the summit will open with a ceremony commemorating the signing of the original NATO treaty.

Residents here are accustomed to traffic holdups, as an occasional motorcade speeds across the city. But the NATO weekend could be worse, with 42 world leaders each escorted by two police cars and motorcycles blocking traffic.

Originally planned as part celebration and part policy summit to discuss the future of NATO, the anniversary may be dominated by diplomacy, given the alliance's involvement in the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.

Nineteen NATO members and 23 members of the affiliated Partnership for Peace are expected to send leaders. Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that leaders of Russia and Belarus -- which are members of the partnership -- are unlikely to attend, especially in light of Russia's opposition to the bombing.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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