I Rest My Case

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 ยง 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.

God Will Provide

As part of a professional network of which I am a member I was recently among a group of Christian school teachers and administrators who were asked about our experiences with funding from the state and federal government. Programs such as IDEA and ESEA, among others, provide funding from the government for various educational purposes, ranging from professional development to textbook purchases to services for students with disabilities.

Sadly, in my opinion, more and more Christian schools are looking for, finding, and utilizing government funds for parts of the services that they provide. There is even at least one internationally recognized Christian school association that encourages this.

My opinion, based on my own experience with federal/state funding of any kind is “stay away from it.” I have had experience in Christian ministries in both the residential childcare and Christian education fields, and in both settings I dealt with state regulations for licensing/accreditation, and in both settings I/we had the opportunity to “tap in” to funding streams from the state and federal governments. The temptation is strong for ministries that rarely if ever have any extra money and are always struggling to find ways to pay for much needed benefits or services. But the reality is that state/federal funding always comes with strings attached. We (collectively) have probably perfected the art of justifying our acceptance of such funds in one way or another–typically by saying the funding will go directly to a SPED provider not to the school, for example; that it will be used to pay for textbooks that we would have purchased anyway; or that it will enable us to provide services to students–or potential students–that we otherwise could not have provided (particularly in the area of IDEA).

My considered and strong opinion, however, is that accepting government money of any kind is a definite step on to an extremely slippery slope. Such a step will inevitably result in (1) relaxing some standards/requirements/convictions that we held in order to allow ourselves to accept the “necessary” funding, and/or (2) will result in us getting so comfortable with/dependent upon that funding that if and when the day comes that we must refuse it because the conditions for accepting it have finally gone too far, we will be scrambling to make up for that funding or will suddenly have to make major cuts to services or spending. The usual reality, though, is much like like the frog in boiling water–we would jump out immediately if thrust into boiling water, but when we get in and the water feels fine, we tend to stay put as the temperature is gradually increased until it’s too late and we have boiled to death.

Christian schools should absolutely endeavor to provide services that are as comprehenive and far-reaching as possible in order to serve as many students as God has called them to serve. That will look different for different schools, of course. At the end of the day, though, if God calls a school to do it, He will provide the funds necessary to accomplish it.