One week ago I put up a post covering the impact of the federal government shutdown on the national parks. One week on, little has changed. One week on, as the National Parks Conservation Association notes, all 401 National Park Service units remain closed, limiting access to 750,000 visitors per day. More than 21,000 NPS employees are still furloughed (although Congress has voted to reimburse back pay for furloughed federal employees, including park service staff, when they return to work). Every day the park service (and the federal government) is losing $450,000 in fees. Every day local communities who rely on the national parks are losing up to $30 million in income. Things continue to look grim.
Some conservatives in the media—only a few, but it is worrying—are trying to make the case that the park service is deliberately trying to make the cuts as painful as possible. They point to controversial actions by the park service to close down scenic laybys at places such as Mount Rushmore or block access to sites that are not completely operated by the federal government, such as privately run inns (on the Blue Ridge Parkway) or Mount Vernon (completely independent of the NPS). The most famous incident involved the civil disobedience by WW II veterans at the National Mall who pushed aside barriers to gain access to the World War II Memorial. I worry that elements of the hard right are trying to use the current situation and these isolated incidents to politicize the park service and make it appear as if the agency is just another lackey of the big bad federal government.
In a previous post (“America’s soft spot for its national parks”) I noted how, in an era of heightened political partisanship, the National Park Service has successfully steered “clear of both the national culture wars that have roiled America and the increasingly vicious ideological debates over the role of government in recent years.” Even though it is a highly visible, centralized federal government agency, it seems to remain, for the most part, a beloved agency, or at least a highly respected agency. I hope nothing that happens in the coming days and weeks does anything to change that. Federal government agencies and individual federal employees are increasingly prone to partisan political attack, usually from the right. So I was gratified when Congress agreed last week, by a vote of 407-0, to approve back pay for furloughed federal workers. I can only hope that the park service, and federal workers more generally, manage to avoid getting too caught up in the current poisonous climate of gridlock and partisan bickering.
Brian Hyde (2013). Perspectives: Shutdown; to make our lives difficult as they can. St. Georges News (Utah), October 7. Available at http://www.stgeorgeutah.com/news/archive/2013/10/07/hyde-perspectives-to-make-our-lives-difficult-as-they-can/#comment-16290
Wesley Pruden (2013). “The cheap tricks of the game.” Washington Times, October 3. Available at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/3/pruden-the-cheap-tricks-of-the-game/#ixzz2gltNloLQ
Jeff Simon (2013). “House votes to approve back pay for furloughed workers.” Washington Post, October 5. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-votes-to-approve-back-pay-for-furloughed-workers/2013/10/05/936c5b4c-2ddc-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html