The PJ Tatler

Remember When the National Parks Service Closed Private Businesses During the Government Shutdown? Here Come the Lawsuits.

The federal government has shut down over standoffs between Congress and the president more than a dozen times over the years, but only in 2013 did the feds take the extra measure of closing parks and monuments. The Obama administration rented barricades and placed them at the entrances to public spaces — even if those spaces were unmanned, and were just scenic parking spots.

The Obama administration also shut down war memorials that are not even staffed. When the feds used rented Barrycades to close down the historic Claude Moore Colonial Farm, well, it was on. Farm director Anna Eberly got everyone’s attention with her email to farm supporters, in which she noted that “For the first time in 40 years, the National Park Service (NPS) has finally succeeded in closing the Farm down to the public. In previous budget dramas, the Farm has always been exempted since the NPS provides no staff or resources to operate the Farm.”

Keeping the farm open cost the government nothing. Closing it was about making the budget/Obamacare standoff hurt. It was about punishing the American people.

The Farm is a non-profit, but the fact is, the NPS’ actions hurt several for-profit businesses that exist by contract on federal park land. During previous shutdown standoffs, those parks were never shut down and those businesses remained open. But the 2013 shutdown was different.

Shutdown theater struck companies like Recreation Resource Managment, Inc., which manages national park campground across about a dozen states, employing 400-500 people. These for-profit companies could not operate, because the NPS shuttered the parks in which they exist. Even worse, the NPS charged the private companies for the privilege of renting the Barrycades that blocked entrance to the parks.

Meanwhile, park-related businesses owned by the politically-connected remained open.

Recreation Resource Management and companies like it pay into the federal treasury. Closing them was not a cost-savings measure. It cost the taxpayers money, while it also harmed tourism.

All of this seemed at the time, last fall, like it would end up in lawsuits against the NPS for its capricious and arbitrary and probably illegal behavior, and so it has. Hans Bader filed suit this week, because the NPS now appears to be violating the Freedom of Information Act.

On Tuesday night, I filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of the Interior and the National Park Service for failing to produce documents in response to two pairs of Freedom of Information Act requests. Those requests, sent on October 9 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), dealt with these agencies’ closures of private businesses and privately-run tourist attractions in the 2013 federal government shutdown, and also with their closures of public monuments and spaces (which were closed down, even though they often are open to the public even when no federal employee is on the premises).

The agencies have neither produced documents, nor set an estimated date for when they will be produced, nor indicated how many documents they might produce, even though FOIA contains a 20-day deadline for an agency to comply with a FOIA request. They have not provided the basic information that FOIA requires within that deadline, such as saying how many documents they expect to produce (or, if the documents are exempt from disclosure, how many they will withhold), even though that information is required under the appeals court ruling in C.R.E.W. v. F.E.C. (2013).

The most transparent administration ever…?

Bader’s FOIA strike is only the beginning.