Administration, D.C. clash over inauguration funding

The White House and the District of Columbia government are bickering over the costs of the upcoming presidential inauguration, with city officials saying that they have not received any money and administration officials countering that the funds have already been doled out.

Despite estimates from the D.C. Office of Budget and Planning (OBP) that put the cost of the 2005 inauguration at $16 million, the city has not yet been appropriated funding specifically to pay for the event.
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President Bush’s 2001 inauguration cost Washington, D.C., almost $6 million. The D.C. government says the 2005 inauguration will cost $16 million.

Since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981, the district has received “presidential inaugural” payments, which have gradually increased from $1.3 million in 1981 to close to $6 million for each of the past three inaugurations.

This year however, the city will be expected to rely on funding appropriated for the D.C. Public Safety Reimbursement Act — described by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the D.C. Public Safety Fund. Established in 2002, the fund was created to cover security and safety costs incurred by the city for certain high-profile events. Security for the International Monetary Fund protests, Code Orange alerts, the State of the Union address and Ronald Reagan’s funeral were all paid for through the D.C. Public Safety Fund.

“The fund was created specifically to reimburse the district for events like the inauguration. It was established with that purpose in mind,” said OMB spokesman Chad Kolton.

But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) voiced concern that the funding will not be enough to cover the enormous cost of the first presidential inauguration, especially after Sept. 11: “Ever since the creation of the district, the inauguration funding has been separate and apart because it is a large event, which requires a great deal of money,” Norton said.

“I think the OMB may be under the mistaken impression that the $15 million we get every year is enough to cover the inauguration,” she said. “But they haven’t thought in detail about the inauguration. ... The police alone will require $13 million for the inauguration — that’s according to our police department.”

Norton said she intended to speak to congressional appropriators to secure inaugural funding in an omnibus spending bill that could be passed this week.

House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said that he was not aware that the district usually gets inaugural funding. “We usually reimburse after the fact,” he said.

Sharon Gang, spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, said the mayor’s office did request $10 million to cover inaugural expenses from the OMB earlier this year, adding that the request was denied because of the existence of the D.C. Public Safety Fund.

“We try to get the money that we think we need,” Gang said. “We always expect to be reimbursed, but there is never a question of whether we are going to perform.”

Gang added that the city did expect to be reimbursed with money from the public-safety fund but was also hoping to receive some regional funding from the
Department of Homeland Security.

Gordon McDonald, associate deputy chief financial officer for the OBP, said that the preliminary estimate of $16 million is still being refined. Responding by e-mail, McDonald said, “The OBP is working with the Office of the City Administrator and District agencies to develop estimated costs for police overtime and other security measures associated with the inaugural events.”

According to the OMB, $15 million was appropriated for the D.C. Public Safety Fund in 2003, $11 million in 2004 and $15 million for 2005. There is about $20 million in unspent funding that could be used toward the Jan. 20, 2005, inauguration, an administration official said.

Kolton declined to comment on recent estimates from the D.C. budget office. “We have not yet received any details for what the potential costs for the inauguration might be,” he said, “but the fund is a reimbursable fund, so as the planning goes forward we intend to work with the city to make sure that they get funded appropriately.”