March 4 2014
Shutdown Theater at the National Parks
Jillian Kay Melchior
The shutdown resulted in 7.88 million fewer visitors at national parks, costing the economy $414 million, according to a news release from the Department of Interior that reads more like an accusation than an apology.
Though you wouldn’t know it from the news release, the National Park Service made the shutdown vastly more painful than it needed to be. For example, in South Dakota, the federal government not only blocked the entrance to Mount Rushmore but also cordoned off roadside spots that might have offered tourists a nice view. It closed the World War II memorial to even visiting veterans. And the Park Service demanded state-run sites on federal lands close their doors to the public.
While the Department of the Interior was eager to broadcast the costs to the economy, it’s been much more sheepish about releasing public records regarding its shutdown behavior at Mount Rushmore, Mount Vernon, the World War II Memorial, and Yellowstone National Park.
National Review Online submitted requests to the National Park Service on October 21 and 22, 2013, for information relating to its decision to shut down those sites. To date, we’ve received: legal papers regarding Mount Vernon dating back to 1930; more recent papers on Mount Vernon, which date back a mere 22 years; and a heavily redacted e-mail discussion. Here’s a sample:
We’ve appealed those redactions, but we haven’t heard anything back yet. Meanwhile—no fewer than 69 business days since a response was legally required from the Department of the Interior for our request for World War II Memorial, Yellowstone National Park, and Mount Rushmore records—we’ve still received nothing, despite numerous follow-ups. Today, a public information officer told me he had no idea how much longer it would take, citing an “extraordinary backlog” and an “employee shortage.”
I’m skeptical. Especially since we now know the economic cost of the park closures, it would be extremely embarrassing if the Department of Interior were forced to admit it purposefully made things worse. Of course, by stonewalling us, Interior ignores President Obama’s 2009 directive to all federal agencies that “the government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”
Then again, four and a half months after we filed these FOIAs, we’re beginning to doubt the president’s boast that he presides over the “most transparent administration ever.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.