The Washington Post, June 8, 1996

Reimbursement Urged for Closing Avenue

At Hearing on Hill, Lawmakers Suggest White House Is Responsible for Losses in District

By Stephen C. Fehr

Washington Post Staff Writer
Democratic and Republican lawmakers criticized the Clinton administration yesterday for failing to reimburse the District for the costs of closing Pennsylvania Avenue m front of the White House.

A year after President Clinton ordered a two block section of the street shut down for security reasons, the federal government has not determined how much the changes in traffic patterns have cost D.C. businesses and government or offered to pay for them. There have been some reimbursements for police assistance and traffic management but not for other effects such as lost parking-meter revenue and torn-up streets.

At a House subcommittee hearing yesterday, three local House members and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry said the closing was a purely federal action that required a reimbursement to the city in addition to its annual federal payment. "There seems to be no coherent policy established by this administration on this question," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis m (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Oversight D.C. subcommittee. "Congress can hardly be expected to work alone to help the District as we have so far been left to do.... If the administration feels so strongly about this, let them pay for it."

Asked if the street closing could be come a political issue for Clinton, Davis said: "If this isn't nipped in the bud, the president may find himself on the short end of a very lopsided issue. Outside of the District, this is a symbolic issue."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she told Clinton at a meeting of congressional Democrats on Thursday night that the closing issue "is heating up badly, and he needs to get ahold of it." She said the president was "most alert" and understood the urgency.

Two developments in the last week have escalated the Pennsylvania Avenue debate. First, the National Park Service recommended a $40 million plan to turn the closed stretch into a pedestrian park, infuriating local lawmakers who want to see the street reopened to vehicles eventually. Davis pulled the plug on the Park Service plan by amending an appropriations bill to deny any money for it.

In addition, a federal study was released showing that some streets near the White House now carry 30 percent to 50 percent more cars, creating much more congestion and delaying automobile commuters, bus riders and taxi passengers. Real estate developer Christopher Reutershan told the subcommittee yesterday that the closing has created "a Berlin Wall—an impassable wall, which has divided our city's central business district into two separate cities."

The president of Riggs National Bank, Timothy C. Coughlin, told lawmakers that the institution's main office at 1503 Pennsylvania Ave. still has parking in front but has lost millions of dollars in customer accounts because "people are not willing to cross a police line to do their banking business."

The agency that controls the federal purse, the Office of Management and Budget, declined Davis's request to testify, leaving officials from four other federal agencies to defend the president's decision. But those officials could not make a commitment on the administration's behalf to reimburse the city.

"There has to be an administration official to take over this process," Norton said. "The concern is that this entire matter is being driven exclusively by the Secret Service. There is no one who sits in . . . to weigh the security threats against the other costs to society."

Budget director Alice M. Rivlin, who also heads a task force of government officials established by Clinton to help the city, is the person with the most influence over reimbursement. Her spokesman, Lawrence Haas, said there was no attempt to duck the question by not showing up yesterday.

"Our understanding of the hearing was that it was going to be about security and the implications for the District in transportation and traffic patterns. On those issues, OMB doesn't have a role," he said.

Davis said that a key purpose of the hearing was to get a commitment from the administration, through Rivlin, that federal money would be forthcoming. Haas said budget officials would look closely at whether reimbursements are justified.

Another administration official, who asked not to be named, said Rivlin did not attend because the money to help the city has not been identified in the federal budget. High-level talks are underway to find it, the official said.

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