The nation’s capital has managed to spare itself many of the supposed troubles of the partial government shutdown.
More than 661 Park Service police, a fifth of the 3,266 employees nationwide deemed essential, are currently on duty in Washington, D.C. alone, according to a copy of the shutdown contingency plan leaked to The Daily Caller.
The preponderance of D.C.-based park police makes some sense given that the capital had a large share of taxpayer-funded sites long before the government spending gap. But the figure raises the question of why that number is not sufficient to maintain access to open-air exhibits and monuments, many of which previously had no guards.
Many national monuments are getting a police presence for the first time in recent memory. The Lincoln Memorial was open 24/7 without overnight staff until the shutdown, according to its website. Since the shutdown a night watchman has been installed. (Related: Seven stupid things the gov’t spent money on during the shutdown)
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, too, was also open 24/7 with no overnight staff, according to its website, but now is fenced off.
This is all apparently part of the plan. “Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately as part of Phase 1 closures,” the plan detailed. “Visitors utilizing overnight concession accommodations and campgrounds will be notified to make alternate arrangements and depart the park as part of Phase 2. Wherever possible, park roads will be closed and access will be denied.”
In fact, road authority doesn’t go to the parks but to the Department of Transportation. The language of the closing plan is also instructive: not “wherever possible” but “wherever necessary.”
Signs during the 1995 shutdown apologized for the “inconvenience” but the current shutdown is different. Mass-produced signs like those before the World War II memorial declare, “Because of government SHUTDOWN all national parks are closed.”
This isn’t an accident. Joan Anzelmo, a former spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park told the San Jose Mercury News that shutting down the parks was a tactic used by the White House to turn public opinion against Congress.
“The park closures in 1995 made a tangible difference. The visual of park rangers closing down national parks, closing down the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument — keeping Americans out of these iconic American sites — those visuals were really a strong factor in people understanding what a government shutdown meant. People got mad.”
Many Americans are simply ignoring the ban or committing acts of civil disobedience. A driver removed the barricades at the Yellowstone National Park arch, laid the shutdown sign on the ground and drove right into the park. (Related: Anarchy at Yellowstone: ‘Road Closed’ sign knocked over, thrown aside)
In San Francisco’s Fort Point, cyclists hopped a fence and continued cycling, defying the government warning and threat of a fine.
In D.C., federal playgrounds are also shut down.
— Charles C. Johnson (@ChuckCJohnson) October 3, 2013
The Department of Interior and Park Service did not return a phoned and emailed request for comment, although only fifty people from the Department’s headquarters have been furloughed.
The Park Service is also using taxpayer money to barricade scenic overlooks, another set of resources that typically need no security presence and do not cost anything to maintain.
Although multiple polls indicate most voters blame congressional Republicans for the partial shutdown, there is ample evidence that the Obama administration is trying to maximize the spending gap’s pain to Americans. In addition to the rapid posting of barricades and dissemination of professionally made closure signs, the administration intentionally created a fight with World War II veterans hoping to visit the World War II memorial this week. (Related: Obama admin. knew about WWII veterans’ request and rejected it)
The Obama administration has also gone to great lengths — and at great cost — to close off public areas that had remained accessible to the public during previous shutdowns. (Related: Monuments and memorials remained open during previous shutdown)
The administration’s claims that the Republican move is unprecedented also aren’t accurate. A CNN transcript from 1995 shows a younger and less fat Al Gore calling Newt Gingrich an “extortionist” over the 1995 shutdown.