The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo opened again Tuesday morning for the first time since the partial shutdown of the federal government began Dec. 22.
The Smithsonian Institution promised regularly scheduled operations pending passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government in a Jan. 25 tweet.
The Smithsonian, a federally funded organization of 19 museums, closed Jan. 2 because of the government shutdown that began Dec. 22. Reserve funds from the previous fiscal year enabled the museums to stay open for 11 days after the shutdown, according to The Washington Post.
Although admission to the Smithsonian museums is free, the Smithsonian still lost revenue during the shutdown, according to Linda St. Thomas, chief spokesperson for the Smithsonian.
“We lost a total of $3.4 million in gross revenue because the museums were closed which means the cafeterias, shops and theaters were closed,” St. Thomas wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The closure also affected the 4,000 federal employees who work for the the museums and the National Zoo. Last week on Jan. 16, President Trump signed the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, which provides back pay to federal employees whose salaries were affected by the partial government shutdown.
However, the bill did not provide financial compensation for workers during the shutdown and did not guarantee compensation for contract employees such as janitors and cafeteria workers, who work in service of federally funded institutions like the Smithsonian.
Some employees who perform critical jobs in service of the Smithsonian had to work the 24-day closure without pay, according to St. Thomas.
“We had a number of people working at the National Zoo to care for the animals 24/7 and some security and maintenance staff in the museums,” St. Thomas wrote.
The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. The closure of the Smithsonian also had consequences for visitors who were not permitted due to the shutdown. Smithsonian secretary David J. Skorton approximated 45,000 visitors a day were prevented from engaging in the educational experiences of the Smithsonian due to the closure, according to USA Today.
The Smithsonian’s $1.4 billion annual budget partially relies on revenue from its retail services. The closure of restaurant, shops and IMAX theaters cost the Smithsonian $1 million in revenue a week. Additionally, the weeks around Christmas are some of the museums’ busiest, with attendance rising 50 to 75 percent, according to The Washington Post. Although the financial impacts on future exhibits and museum operations are still unclear, these losses will have an affect the Smithsonian’s budget for this fiscal year, according to USA Today.
Several exhibits have been threatened by the shutdown, according to artnet News, an art market website. The “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice” exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, which would be the first retrospective display of the artist’s work in North America, was slated to open March 10, but the shutdown has delayed preparations. The “Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths” exhibit, which looks at the evolution of ironworking and the role of industrial innovation in African cultures, has been postponed by the National Museum of African Art from late February, when it was originally scheduled to begin.
The three-week agreement between the White House and congressional leaders to temporarily keep the government open will end Feb. 15. Debates will recommence on a federal budget that includes a proposed $5.7 billion for Trump’s border wall with Mexico. If the new bipartisan conference committee on the southern border does not come to an agreement on funding for the wall, the government will shutdown again Feb. 15 or Trump will declare a state of emergency to get the necessary funds.
Although the Smithsonian might once again be forced to turn away visitors and employees starting in February, steps are being made to eliminate the possibility that it will have to do so in the future. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have both introduced bills that would automatically fund the federal government in the event that lawmakers cannot meet deadlines.
Warner’s bill, nicknamed the Stop STUPIDITY Act, would provide for continuing appropriations for the federal government during a shutdown with the exception of the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President, a group of agencies that supports the function of the executive branch. The government shutdown is disturbing the lives of federal workers, Warner said in a Jan. 22 news release.
“The Stop STUPIDITY Act takes the aggressive but necessary step of forcing the President and Congress to do the jobs they were elected to do,” Warner said. “Workers, business owners and tax payers are currently paying the price of D.C. gridlock and my legislation will put an end to that.”