Hearing of the Week: Joint Venture to Demand Answers on 'Arbitrary and Unnecessary' Park Closures
The most highly anticipated congressional hearing of the week will be a joint venture in the House digging into why the Obama administration shut down national monuments and parks as part of the government shutdown.
The House Natural Resources Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold the hearing “As Difficult As Possible: The National Park Service’s Implementation of the Government Shutdown" on Wednesday.
"Among the issues to be examined at the hearing include the Obama Administration’s arbitrary and unnecessary actions to erect metal barricades around certain national parks, monuments and memorials in order to make the government shutdown as painful as possible," the Natural Resources Committee said.
The witness panel hasn't yet been confirmed, but leading the hearing will be two fiery chairmen who have already been hammering at the administration over the closures: Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
“Across the country, Americans are deliberately being denied access to open-air memorials and national parks – places that are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Hastings said. "These are sites that were not closed by the Clinton Administration during the last government shutdown. However, the Obama Administration appears determined to make their shutdown as difficult and painful as possible. They are forcing private businesses to close and are selectively choosing which high-profile sites to close off and which to keep open. One park ranger even said that they were directed to ‘make life as difficult for people as we can.’ This is shameful and wrong and we intend to hold the Obama Administration accountable for their actions."
Issa said the National Park Service's barricades at usually unattended open-air memorials are "only one example of the many drastic and unprecedented steps the Park Service has taken during the current lapse in appropriations."
"Their actions suggest a pattern of decision making based on politics rather than prudence," Issa continued. "During sequestration and the current government shutdown, Park Service officials reportedly instructed employees to make fiscal cuts both visible and painful. Caught in the crossfire are innocent Americans – veterans and small business owners – who have a right to expect that even during tough financial situations, government officials are still acting as trustworthy stewards of their tax dollars."
On Friday, Hastings sent letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell seeking answers about the closures. This follows a letter he sent the previous week to NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis.
Of utmost importance, the letters stressed, is keeping documents and records of communications around these decisions for congressional investigations.
Late last week, the Interior Department said it would consider partnerships with states to keep federal landmarks open. Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Arizona and New York all agreed to pony up the funds to reopen their attractions that bring in huge tourist dollars, including Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon.
“While today’s announcement indicates their rigid opposition is softening, the Committee is concerned that the requirement to ‘fully fund National Park Service personnel’ is an arbitrary and costly burden forced on these Governors to, once again, maximize the political pain of the National Park Service’s own decisions," Issa said Thursday.
“Next week, we will seek answers from the National Park Service on their closure decisions, the barricading of open air memorials and public sites, the shuttering of private businesses, and the haphazard and uneven way they have reopened sites they were supposedly ‘forced’ to close.”