The Department of the Interior knew beforehand that two groups of aging veterans would be visiting the World War II Memorial as the partial government shutdown began on Oct. 1 but decided to barricade the site anyway, according to e-mails obtained by National Review Online.
The newly released public records also show National Park Service employees busily monitoring the news for any bad publicity and making shutdown exceptions for their co-workers.
On Sept. 30, staff from the offices of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) and Representative Steven Palazzo (R., Miss.) contacted the Department of the Interior’s Office of Congressional Affairs, as well as the National Park Service’s Washington Office and at least one regional office.
Tom Buttry, a legislative correspondent in Harkin’s office, wrote on Sept. 30:
While I understand that these memorials have remained accessible to the public during past shutdowns (I’d imagine with the mall being so open, it’d probably [be] more manpower intensive to try to completely close them), I wanted to do my due diligence and make 100 percent sure that people could visit the outdoor memorials on the National Mall in the event of a shutdown.
The Department of the Interior and National Park Service decided instead to fully shut down the site, e-mails show:
The aftermath was widely reported: The visiting veterans defied the barricades, crossing to visit the site as bagpipes played and onlookers cheered. Meanwhile, CNN reported:
Outraged and baffled, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, crossed through an opening in the railing earlier in the morning – before the breach – and got on the phone to try and reach the secretary of the Department of Interior.
“I don’t get it. I’m furious. I’m trying to get a hold of people,” he said, standing on the other side of the barricade and looking around for help. “But I can’t seem to get a hold of anybody.”
As the veterans’ story caught national attention, the Park Service looked for evidence that Congress was being held responsible for the memorial’s closure instead:
Meanwhile, on at least one occasion, the National Park Service’s deputy superintendent of operations for the National Mall and Memorial Parks gave its own staff permission to move barriers:
— 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.