The Corner

National Park Service Stonewalls FOIA Request on Mount Vernon Barricades, Cites Potential ‘Chilling Effect on the Agency’s Deliberative Process’

The National Park Service’s wide-ranging, unnecessary closings were an embarrassment during the government shutdown — and apparently the Park Service agrees.

At least that’s what I’m concluding as I review the Park Service’s response to a request I filed under the Freedom of Information Act, looking for e-mails discussing the shutting, closure, or barricading of Mount Vernon.

According to documents obtained, the day before the shutdown, the National Park Service looked into the legality of closing down the parking lots at Mount Vernon, which is owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and does not receive federal funding.

“I’ve spoken to some representatives from Mount Vernon and they believe that the parking lots are Under [sic] their ownership and we don’t have the legal right to close the parking lot,” wrote Alexcy Romero, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, in a September 30 e-mail. He added that “we need to make a decision fairly quickly if there is a government shutdown midnight today in order to barricade those areas to visitors.”

Unfortunately, much of the ensuing discussion has been redacted by the National Park Service:

The Department of the Interior justified its redactions by claiming that portions of the records:

. . . are both predecisional and deliberative. They do not contain or represent formal or informal agency policies or decisions. They are the result of frank and open discussions among employees of the Department of the Interior. Therefore, their content has been held confidential by all parties. Public dissemination of this information would have a chilling effect on the agency’s deliberative processes; it would expose the agency’s decision-making processes in such a way as to discourage candid discussion within the agency and thereby undermine its ability to perform its mandated functions.

But the National Park Service failed to explain how this discussion about barricading a very specific location during a very specific time period would affect Official Agency Policy in the long term.

A better explanation, of course, is that the Department of Interior is embarrassed by what its National Park Service employees said. Unfortunately for them, even President Obama has stated in his 2009 directive to all federal agencies that “the government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”

Earlier this week, National Review online filed an appeal with the Department of the Interior.

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