BY: Follow @LizWFB
Rep. Bill Huizenga (R., Mich.) sent a letter to the National Park Service (NPS) on Wednesday demanding answers to the agency’s “dubious” handling of the government shutdown.
Ninety-three additional members of Congress have signed onto the letter sent to NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis questioning if politics is involved in the closings of the World War II Memorial, privately owned parks, and other sites across the nation.
“The National Park Service continues to act in an arbitrary and punitive manner to exclude veterans from memorials built in their honor and the American people from many of our country’s national treasures,” said Huizenga in a statement. “I have serious questions about the tactics and decisions being implemented by the National Park Service and clearly many of my colleagues do as well.”
“Director Jarvis cannot simply make up the rules as he goes along, which is one of the major reasons my colleagues and I sent this letter requesting concrete and definitive answers,” he said.
The letter asks Jarvis to explain the barricades erected to block out veterans from the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War memorials, all of which are open-air sites.
The World War II Memorial, in particular, has been the subject of controversy since the government shutdown on Oct. 1, with the NPS attempting to block veterans who fought in the conflict and had traveled across the country to see the site.
Huizenga, whose father is a disabled WWII veteran, has visited the memorial several times during the shutdown to help constituents gain access.
The park service has also blocked the view of Mt. Rushmore from the highway, kicked seniors out of their homes because they sit on federal land, and placed visitors to Yellowstone National Park under armed guard.
“We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can,” said one park ranger. “It’s disgusting.”
The letter questions the “dubious decision-making and the seemingly random manner in which some monuments and park areas have been closed.”
Huizenga said the NPS is violating its own contingency plan for lack of funding in the case of a government shutdown, which was drafted in September.
The plan states that all facilities would be closed unless “they are deemed essential for health and safety reasons, are needed to support on-going excepted NPS activities or are located in urban areas where full NPS law enforcement coverage is continued due to the inability to control visitor access.”
“These urban, open-air memorials seem to be precisely the type of exception outlined in the Department’s plan and, as such, should remain open to the public,” the letter said.
Huizenga also asks for the cost of installing barricades and patrol around the monuments, and for the number of staff typically assigned to the memorials. As many as seven guards have been posted to the World War II Memorial since the shutdown began.
The letter also questions why the shutdown is being handled differently than when the government temporarily closed in 1990s.
“During the partial government shutdown of 1995 and 1996 the currently closed memorials on the National Mall remained open,” the letter said. “What were the contributing factors to this change in NPS policy?”
The House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a hearing next week on the matter, entitled, “As Difficult As Possible: The National Park Service’s Implementation of the Government Shutdown.”