The federal government will put a liberal leave policy for Washington-area employees into effect Thursday to help prevent traffic gridlock during President-elect Bush's opening inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Federal workers are urged to use annual leave, previously earned compensatory time off, or leave without pay to reduce the traffic crunch. Inaugural planners had asked the government to close federal offices in Washington early on Thursday after police announced the need to close roads in the vicinity of the Memorial. OPM officials said the leave policy is similar to one used for the Million Man March in 1995. They would not speculate on how many employees might take advantage of the opportunity to take leave. OPM Director Janice Lachance announced the decision in a memorandum to agencies early Wednesday. While OPM did not authorize agencies to provide excused absences to employees, agency heads do have some independent discretion to offer leave to their employees. Late Wednesday, Education Secretary Richard Riley announced that all non-essential employees at department headquarters would be excused two hours prior to their normal departure time tomorrow. Education employees will be released with pay and without charge to leave for these two hours. OPM was not aware that any agency had opted to provide excused absences to employees. The inaugural celebration is expected to draw from 75,000 to 200,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial. Entertainers such as Ricky Martin and Lee Ann Womack will perform at the event, which marks the beginning of President-elect Bush's inaugural festivities. The celebration will begin at 3:30 p.m. Thursday and end about 6 p.m. Police have decided to close Memorial Bridge from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow to prepare for a fireworks display and allow the easy movement of the President-elect's motorcade.
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