Alright, I’ve waited long enough. I cannot help it; I just have to say something. The way in which the Obama administration has handled the government shut down would be laughable but for the fact that it is actually incredibly offensive and, in fact, illegal. That’s right, illegal. Find that hard to believe? Read on…
This past Tuesday, October 1, the Obama administration ordered the closing of national parks as part of the shutdown. While unfortunate, that is understandable since park rangers and other park employees are not “essential” government workers. However, the National Park Service also erected barricades around the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. This memorial is an open-air monument on the National Mall. It is usually open 24 hours a day, seven days a week whether there are any Park Service personnel present or not. The around-the-clock accessibility of the memorial is clearly stated on the National WWII Memorial web site.
The sign posted on the barricades read, “Because of the Federal Government SHUTDOWN, All National Parks Are CLOSED.” The WWII Memorial, though, is not a national park. It is a memorial that is “operated” by the National Park Service, but that word “operated” means something entirely different for an open-air memorial with no services offered than it does for a national park requiring admissions collectors, custodians, park rangers, etc. There is absolutely nothing about the WWII Memorial that requires regular “operation.”
What’s more, the construction of the WWII Memorial was funded almost entirely by private donations, not by government money, as outlined in Public Law 103-32. Part of the $182 million cost of the monument included a National Park Service maintenance fee as required by the Commemorative Works Act. Interestingly, part of that act (40 USC § 8901) reads that the purposes of the act include, “to ensure the continued public use and enjoyment of open space in the District of Columbia and its environs, and to encourage the location of commemorative works within the urban fabric of the District of Columbia.” A bit difficult for the public to use and enjoy the memorial when the NPS erects barricades and will not let anyone in. So what is that maintenance fee and what is it for? According to the Commemorative Works Act, no permit for construction of a memorial will be granted “unless the sponsor authorized to construct the commemorative work has donated an amount equal to 10 percent of the total estimated cost of construction to offset the costs of perpetual maintenance and preservation of the commemorative work.” So there were funds–millions of dollars, in fact–that were privately raised and are on deposit with the U.S. Treasury specifically for the purpose of “maintaining” the WWII Memorial. And what does that mean exactly? “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, money on deposit in the Treasury on the date of enactment of the Commemorative Works Clarification and Revision Act of 2003 provided by a sponsor for maintenance pursuant to this subsection shall be credited to a separate account in the Treasury.” It would be extremely difficult for anyone to convincingly argue that maintenance of the memorial does not include keeping it open to the public, and the money to do that is sitting in the Treasury in a “separate account,” earmarked for that purpose.
A lapse in government funding and a temporary government shut down are not pleasant, but they are not unprecedented, either. There have been more than a dozen such lapses during my life time, ranging from a day to three weeks. According to the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department such shutdowns cannot interfere with essential government functions such as national defense and the protection of life and property. Neither can they interfere with the payment of government obligations like Social Security and veterans benefits.
However, President Obama has made it his mission to identify the most public displays of the consequences of the government shutdown in an effort to shift public opinion in his favor. That is why the Lincoln Memorial was also closed to visitors. National Park News has a photo depicting workers erecting barriers and temporary fencing to keep visitors off of the Lincoln Memorial despite that it, too, is usually open whether or not NPS personnel are present. In fact, a newspaper report about the 1995 government shutdown by Associated Press writer Cassandra Burrell includes this statement: “Tourists were free to wander the halls of the Capitol, touch the walls of the Vietnam Memorial and climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to read the Gettysburg Address–those and other similar sites don’t require supervision by federal employees.” Apparently the president thinks now, eighteen years later, such supervision is required. The problem is, all efforts at explaining why it is are nothing less that pathetic. To wit…the need for CPR-trained personnel to be present.
I am not making that up, by the way. CNN’s Jake Tapper reported on his blog, The Lead with Jake Tapper, this explanation for the WWII Memorial closing by National Mall and Memorial parks spokeswoman Carol Johnson: “I know that this is an open-air memorial, but we have people on staff who are CPR trained, (and) we want to make sure that we have maintenance crew to take care of any problems. What we’re trying to do is protect this resource for future generations.” Please… There are plenty of people around Washington, DC who are CPR-trained. It’s not as if the emergency services and hospitals are closed. As for the maintenance crews, see above.
So intent are President Obama and his appointees to provide the most public demonstrations possible of the shutdown’s effects that the NPS attempted to shut down George Washington’s Mount Vernon on Tuesday, too. The problem is, Mount Vernon is privately owned. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association owns and operates the historic site and has for some one hundred and fifty years. To be fair to the president, the parking lots at Mount Vernon are jointly owned by the NPS and Mount Vernon. Perhaps CPR-trained personnel need to be present in order for people to park their cars. The NPS removed most of their barricades once they were informed that they had no authority to blockade Mount Vernon.
Further evidence of the idiocy of the president’s strategic closing of federal property includes the shutting down of numerous hiking and biking trails around D.C. that typically have no personnel present and require no immediate maintenance. NPS officers were stationed along the 184-mile Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to make sure that no one used the bike paths. Please note that it is requiring more man power to shut the trails down than it ever would have to leave them open! The National Park Service, Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies have also taken the time (and spent the money) to create new pages on their web sites that visitors to the sites will see, informing them that due to the government shutdown the web sites are shut down as well. I kid you not; try to visit the NPS web site and you will get this message: “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to http://www.doi.gov.” Funny how there were enough funds to keep the Department of the Interior web site up and running. Earlier today I tried to log on to an online survey from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences that the government has asked me, as a private school administrator, to complete. No can do, though: “Due to a lapse of appropriations and the partial shutdown of the Federal Government, the systems that host surveys.nces.ed.gov have been shut down. Services will be restored as soon as a continuing resolution to provide funding has been enacted.”
Believe it or not, I could go on, but I think I’ll stop. I think I have presented sufficient evidence, and I rest my case. I ask you, the readers of my blog, and millions of my fellow Americans, to find the president guilty of once again violating his oath of office, derelict in his duties, and actually breaking the law.