The Obama administration is using the “Washington Monument Syndrome” as part of its shutdown propaganda effort. The goal is to win the PR battle over the shutdown by closing the government functions and places most noticeable to average citizens.
Sometimes the tactic backfires as when World War II veterans pushed through barricades this week to visit a monument honoring their service or when White House tours for schoolchildren were closed last March, supposedly because of budget cuts mandated under sequestration.
But for every petty political calculation that backfires, many go unreported. During this shutdown, federal websites promoting Obamacare may be open but access to high-profile websites run by NASA, the Library of Congress, the Agriculture Department, as well as data.gov and many others has been shuttered. “This makes no sense,” Donald Rieck, executive director of the Statistical Assessment Service at George Mason University, told me. “It costs more money to close sites than to keep them running without being updated.” After all, the infrastructure to keep websites up is already in place.
A memo by Office of Management and Budget director Sylvia Burwell makes it clear it’s not possible to spare any expense when it comes to shutting down the government: “The determination of which services continue during an appropriations lapse is not affected by whether the costs of shutdown exceed the costs of maintaining services,” Burwell wrote. Her memo also says that if a website is down, it should show a standard notice that it will be unavailable during the shutdown.
But some agencies apparently didn’t get the nonsensical memo. The Department of Veterans Affairs says its home page will be “updated intermittently.” The Federal Elections Commission site is still online “but static.” Wired magazine reports that the government’s policy appears “bafflingly arbitrary.” In many cases, it is depriving everyone from scholars to schoolchildren of government research and data that taxpayers have already paid for and should remain online.
President Obama said in his 2009 inaugural address that he planned to “restore science to its rightful place” in government. Instead, through his administration’s arbitrary policy it is shutting out science in favor of petty politics.