Topics: House of Representatives

Two House panels investigate National Park Service shutdown actions

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Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,House of Representatives,Darrell Issa,Government Shutdown,National Park Service

Don't be surprised if Wednesday's joint hearing by two committees of the House of Representatives into the National Park Service's handling of the partial government shutdown gets tense.

The hearing is being convened by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

House Republicans think the NPS has engaged in partisan efforts to exacerbate the inconvenience of the shutdow; to Democrats, that's just so much "demagoguery" from the lawmakers who instigated the fiscal fight.

The hearing was prompted by NPS's decision to close and barricade open-air monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II memorial, block the scenic overlooks that allow drivers to admire Mount Rushmore from afar, and close privately-run businesses that operate on federal land.

“These are sites that were not closed by the Clinton administration during the last government shutdown," said natural resources chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

Hastings has no problem with NPS closing staffed sites such as the Smithsonian museums, but he told the Washington Examiner that the effort expended to close the most popular landmarks represented political gamesmanship by the putatively non-partisan agency.

"Why is this shutdown so different from the one in 1995 to 1996?" asked oversight panel chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

"It appears many of these highly visible closures cost taxpayer money, would violate the spirit if not the letter of the law. Certainly, these closures appear to be designed to maximize the political pain of this lapse in appropriations," Issa said.

National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis refused to appear before the committee voluntarily.

"He would not comply without a subpoena," said a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee aide.

"The chairman felt Director Jarvis’ input was necessary for a complete and accurate hearing, so he issued a subpoena on Friday. The Park Service also declined electronic transmission of the subpoena and would only accept a hard copy, which was hand delivered."

Democrats on the two House committees are sympathetic to Jarvis' resistance. "I don’t blame Director Jarvis one bit for requiring the committee to issue a subpoena," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., an Oversight and Government Reform Committee member.

"Why would the director want to appear before a committee, whose majority members voted for the shutdown, that now wants to use his appearance to score political points and, as I said previously, use demagoguery to deflect from the fact that they voted to shut down the government?

"Why would he voluntarily appear before the Committee when he is trying to manage an agency where nearly 90 percent of its employees are on furlough?"

Connolly argued that the Honor Flight Network co-founder Jeff Miller "completely destroyed the entire narrative of this hearing" when he praised the NPS to the Washington Post.

"The Park Service, they have been so compassionate, they have done everything they could,” Miller said.

The barricades around the World War II memorial made national news when veterans participating in Honor Flight tours were initially told they could not enter the open-air commemoration of their service.

Connolly said that the National Mall and other public places are closed because "the NPS is not able to protect the monuments and look out for the safety of the citizens who come to visit," adding that "this is more of the Republicans’ efforts to cherry-pick what they want to fund in the government and what they don’t."

The safety argument doesn't explain why NPS would close "private businesses and non-profits that operate on or near park land shuttered -- even when these entities do not rely on federal appropriations or support from the Park Service," as Issa observed.

Claude Moore Memorial Farm managing director Anna Eberly will speak to that last issue when she testifies about the National Park Service's decision to close her farm.

"What utter crap," Eberly said of the security argument after the NPS shutdown the farm. "We have operated the farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today.

"But there are barricades at the pavilions and entrance to the farm. And if you were to park on the grass and visit on your own, you run the risk of being arrested. Of course, that will cost the NPS staff salaries to police the farm against intruders while leaving it open will cost them nothing."

NPS decided to allow the farm to reopen last week.

"We intend to hold the Obama Administration accountable for their actions,” Hastings said.


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