Several months ago, just before Sequestration began, the Department of Homeland Security preemptively released thousands of foreign nationals who were awaiting deportation, at least some of whom had serious criminal offenses on their records. (Child abuse, for example).
Around the same time, the FAA, faced with an actual year-over-year budget increase (in spite of sequestration), furloughed air traffic controllers from the nation’s largest airports — on purpose. When grilled by Congress, FAA administrator Michael Huerta actually argued that he couldn’t possibly furlough only controllers at less-used facilities, because it would be unfair and harm morale within the agency. No, I’m not making that up. “The sequester is like a pay cut, and is applied equally to like groups of employees, who still have to work together,” he said. “The agency can’t put itself in position of choosing winners and losers by geographical areas of country.” Thus, controllers at the LaGuardia and Kalamazoo airports were placed on equal footing, so as to cause as much pain as possible and pressure Congress to increase the agency budget.
When bureaucrats are threatened with irrelevance or face appearing unneeded, they respond by inflicting as much pain as possible, in hopes that they can prove they’re necessary and get their budgets increased. And even worse, an administration trying to make a political point — as Obama’s is — has every incentive to make a shutdown felt as acutely as possible. So obviously, we need to cancel the Navy-Air Force game as quickly as possible, even if the event is a voluntary activity by students requiring no expenditure of taxpayer funds.
The barricading of the World War II Memorial has now become the most visible incident in this case — and to be clear, it’s not a “closing” because there’s no such thing as “closing” an open-air stone memorial in the middle of a large field like the National Mall. People walk past and through this memorial unaccompanied at all hours of the day and night. (And really, if they’re going to close that, why aren’t they closing the entire National Mall?)
To my knowledge, no one has been arrested yet for walking through Sherman Circle (pictured above, in a completely residential section of D.C.), but technically, that’s an NPS park, too. (And they’ve always done a lousy job keeping the grass mowed, so I doubt the shutdown will even be noticed there.) If NPS wants to be consistent, they should rope it off. But they won’t do that, because nobody from out of town visits Sherman Circle. The entire point here is to harass people only in the higher-profile parts of town that NPS controls.
Meanwhile, there are reports of parking spots and bus turnarounds along the Rock Creek Parkway and the George Washington Memorial Parkway (controlled by NPS and patrolled by the Park Police). These roads remain open and they lead to non-government-controlled tourism sites such as Mount Vernon, George Washington’s old home. If people are already driving on unattended federal roads, do they need government supervision to park in parking spaces or turn buses around in bus turnarounds? Do we need CPR-qualified federal employees standing every 100 feet along every federally controlled highway every day, or does that rule only apply when there’s a government shutdown?
Or is this just another exercise in harassing people, in lieu of the usual Washington Monument closure? (the monument is already closed for earthquake repairs.)
This strategy failed during the sequester, and I don’t think it can survive in an era when the public has become savvier and has less trust in government than ever before. What we’re learning here is that much of the “non-essential” government work that this shutdown has interrupted is not needed, now or ever. If the rapture were to occur tomorrow and take every non-essential employee, it would lead to less inconvenience than the absurd theater we’re seeing now. Government actually has to go out of its way and spend more money and man-hours inconveniencing people in this way. It’s an untrustworthy institution whose control over society should be diminished.
Congress should press its advantage here after this debacle is over, and work in the future to put national monuments and parks into the hands of private preservation charities like the Ladies of Mt. Vernon, who keep George Washington’s home accessible to the public 365 days a year. If nothing else, it would mean we wouldn’t be at the mercy of vindictive bureaucrats every time they feel the need to prove themselves indispensable.