Park Service ranger: "We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It's disgusting."

I missed this nugget from Wesley Pruden yesterday, but I think it’s actually better for a Friday afternoon to sort of sum up the week.

When and how did the National Park Service become “the shock troops of the punitive bureaucracy”?

The Park Service appears to be closing streets on mere whim and caprice. The rangers even closed the parking lot at Mount Vernon, where the plantation home of George Washington is a favorite tourist destination. That was after they barred the new World War II Memorial on the Mall to veterans of World War II. But the government does not own Mount Vernon; it is privately owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The ladies bought it years ago to preserve it as a national memorial. The feds closed access to the parking lots this week, even though the lots are jointly owned with the Mount Vernon ladies. The rangers are from the government, and they’re only here to help.

“It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

Sad to say, but there’s precedent here. The extent of the barricade mentality may have deepened over time, with some memorials being shuttered now that stayed open in ’95, but the NPS has apparently always been a lead actor in shutdown-theater pageantry. Andrew Stiles interviewed former Bush Interior Secretary Gale Norton about it, and she said it’s nothing new:

“The National Parks Service has a long history of dramatizing budget issues by inconveniencing the public,” she says. ”They often choose the most dramatic type of action in order to get their message across. It’s something I had to guard against when I was secretary — not letting them play budget games.“

NPS has engaged in such behavior for decades, Nortons says, recalling at least one occassion during the Reagan administraiton, in which she worked as an attorney for the parks service, when NPS decided to close Skyline Drive, a scenic highway running through Shenandoah National Park, in order to make a statement during an appropriations fight on Capitol Hill…

“Given the fact that they have closed so much, and acted so broadly, I imagine that decision was made at the highest levels of park service leadership, in cooperation with department leadership and the White House,” she says.

Note the point about budget games. Darrell Issa sent a letter to the director of the NPS yesterday demanding to know why open-air memorials have been closed and noting that the tactic seems oddly similar to other inexplicable closures back in March, when NPS was grumpy about its budget being cut due to sequestration. Quote: “Specifically, the Committee received information that proposed budget adjustments submitted by an NPS official in the field to deal with sequestration impacts were rejected by NPS superiors in favor of cuts that would be more visible and disruptive.” Hearings are presumably on the way, as only a really thorough public shaming is apt to make them think twice about this in the future. I wonder who the Lois Lerner of the NPS will turn out to be. Fair warning to whoever that person is: You’re looking at some hard time involving months of paid vacation and a luxe government pension, pardner.

Via John McCormack, here was what the World War II Memorial looked like this morning. They’ve actually wired the barricades together to make it marginally harder for people to get in. Exit quotation from Tom Hanks, commenting on the Honor Flight vets who insisted on entry earlier this week: “Good for the veterans. Good, go see it. We should all have access to them all the time.””