Professionally made signs at a North Carolina campground are warning visitors that the site is closed because of an “operational change due to sequestration.” Two Republican members of Congress have demanded Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell explain how and why the signs appeared, and how they were paid for.
“CLOSED,” reads a metal sign posted at a road into the Linville Falls Campground in North Carolina. “Operational Change Due to Sequestration.” The signs, at a National Park site along the Blue Ridge Parkway, bear the official logo of the National Park Service and read “National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.”
The existence of the signs has come up as the politics of sequestration — an extremely slight slowing in the rapid growth rate of federal spending — has begun to heat up. Republicans and some Democrats say the Obama administration is making budget decisions in ways designed to maximize inconvenience for taxpayers and turn public opinion against Republicans, who allowed President Obama’s sequestration plan to be put into practice in March.
Recent controversies have centered on whether the Transportation Security Administration is making staffing decisions that slow down air travel, and whether planned furloughs of air traffic controllers are necessary. Obama also came under fire for cancelling White House tours shortly after sequestration began.
The issue of the Linville Falls signs was mentioned during April 15 House testimony by Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. Jarvis noted that such signs would be “inappropriate” but claimed to be “unaware of any signs.”
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa of California has sent a letter [pdf] to Interior head Jewell requesting an explanation for the signs. The letter is co-signed by Committee member Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, whose 11th District contains the campground.
“At a time when agencies must seek ways to be more fiscally responsible and reduce spending,” the letter reads, “the Committee is concerned that NPS is using taxpayer dollars to publicize sequestration.” Meadows and Issa are asking for the cost of the signs, which they call “another tactic by the Administration to politicize sequestration.” They also want to know how many of the signs were made and placed.
Meadows told The Daily Caller the Linville Falls signs are part of a pattern of high-profile service cutbacks designed to forefront sequestration. “Under sworn testimony,” Meadows said in an email, “the FAA Administrator admitted that the agency’s original warnings of 90-minute delays were not based on any data or meaningful analysis. Too many estimates have been given about the potential impact of sequestration with very little planning or analysis to justify them. These park signs are yet another example of an agency playing politics.”
Further complicating the issue is that the Park Service’s budget has not actually been cut. According to NPS budget records, the Park Service’s enacted 2012 budget was $2,983,623,000. For 2013 the budget request is $2,986,130,000.
“Based on their current budget, the National Park Service could manage the sequestration process without any park closures or visual impact on park visitors,” Meadows told TheDC.
A National Park Service representative said the agency would be unable to respond by publication time to The Daily Caller’s questions on the cost of the signs, the decision to place them, and whether the language about sequestration was deemed helpful to campground visitors.