The House oversight committee announced Tuesday that one of its subcommittees will hold a hearing next week to explore why Occupy protesters in Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Square have been allowed to camp there indefinitely.
In a letter to witnesses that will be called to testify, South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy said that his Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives will “focus on the decision-making process that has allowed continued camping in McPherson Square for more than three months despite the apparent illegality of it.”
City health officials say the months-long protest in McPherson Square has led to “very unsanitary conditions.” Critics also note that an infant was recently found abandoned in a tent as temperatures outside plummeted, and that the rat population in the area has exploded.
“Going down to these camps, it’s no different than refugee camps,” Dr. Mohammed Akhter, the Pakistani-born director of D.C.’s Department of Health, told The Washington Post last week. “People are living in very primitive conditions and they’re doing it by choice. They are very brave and thoughtful people, but my concern is that they should also take care of themselves. When the weather goes bad suddenly we’re watching a tragedy unfold in the middle of Washington, D.C. ”
While similar Occupy camps have appeared all over the country in recent months, the one in McPherson is unique in that it falls under the discretion of the National Park Service. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray asked the Park Service last month to remove the campsite so it could “at a minimum” be cleaned. So far, his request has gone unanswered.
The Interior Department has until Jan. 24, the day of the hearing, to respond to the committee. Witnesses will include Dr. Akhter, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. According to a statement released by the committee, Interior Assistant Secretary Rachel Jacobson has also been invited to testify, but has not yet confirmed that she will do so.