Government Shutdown Closes Smithsonian for 3 days

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  • Throughout the summer of 1990, Smithsonian administrators prepared for staff furloughs threatened by a Graham-Hollings-Rudman Act mandatory 32% sequestration of federal funds in the absence of a final budget. A hiring freeze was put in place. President George Herbert Walker Bush vetoed the Congressional budget and closed down the federal government from October 6-8, 1990. The impact was softened because this was Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the Columbus Day weekend, so many government employees were not scheduled to work. The Smithsonian did close all the museums and National Zoological Park for all three days, and the National Park Service closed the national parks and Washington Monument.
  • Essential employees, such as management committee members, reduced staff of guards, buildings maintenance personnel, necessary Office of Human Resources staff and computer services specialists, employees monitoring contracts, supply and mail/shipping personnel, accounting and financial services staff, collections care staff, zoo keepers and medical staff, and employees necessary to carry out the terms and conditions of grants and contracts received or obligated by SI, did remain at work. Some special events and classes were held since they involved contracts. The Visitor Information and Associates Reception Center, with trust fund employees, remained operational and fielded questions from the public. The Institution anticipated and prepared for another shutdown on October 20, when the Continuing Resolution expired, but that was averted.
  • President Bush announced that federal workers would not be paid for the furlough days, but the U.S. Congress promptly passed legislation ensuring that they would be paid, in response to threats of lawsuits. Questions were raised as to whether trust employees, such as museum shop staff, should be paid for the days the museums were closed, since federal employees were paid for the furlough days, despite the loss of income on those days.


  • Bush, George 1924-
  • Office of Protective Services
  • Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center
  • Guard Force
  • United States Congress
  • United States President (1989-1993 : Bush)
  • National Zoological Park (U.S.)


Chronology of Smithsonian History


  • "Government Starting Shutdown of Many Services," by John H. Cushman, The New York Times, Oct. 6, 1990, A15.
  • "Columbus Day Cushions Shutdown's Initial Blow," by Dana Priest, The Washington Post, Oct. 6, 1990, A1, 11.
  • "Three-Day U.S. Holiday Damps Impact of Bush Veto on Spending, by Hilary Stout and David Well, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8, 1990, p. 9.
  • "Tourists Lose Weekend, Others Their Patience," by John H. Cushman, The New York Times, Oct. 8, 1990, A15.
  • "No Pay for Furlough Days, Administration Officials Rule," by Kent Jenkins, The Washington Post, Oct. 12, 1990, A19.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


October 6-8, 1990


  • Closings
  • Zoo keepers
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Personnel management
  • Employees
  • Museums
  • Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.)
  • Smithsonian Institution--Employees


  • Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.)
  • Washington (D.C.)

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