It appears the National Park Service really doesn’t want to explain its decision to barricade Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, during the 16-day partial government shutdown.
It would at least seem that way based on how the park service has responded to a request for information filed under the Freedom of Information Act by National Review Online’s Jillian Kay Melchior.
The federal government closed dozens of public parks, open-air monuments and memorials during the 16-day partial government in October, much to the disgust of many Americans.
One of the more controversial closings involved the park service barricading the parking lots at Mount Vernon, which are owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and therefore receive no federal funding.
But if they receive no federal funding, then why did the park service barricade the parking lots? Melchior said this week that park service has stonewalled all efforts to have this question answered.
“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,” Alexcy Romero, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, wrote in a Sept. 30 email obtained by National Review.
“[W]e need to make a decision fairly quickly if there is a government shutdown midnight today in order to barricade those areas to visitors,” the email adds.
The park service did, however, provide portions of its Mount Vernon discussion – but almost all of it had been redacted:
The Department of Interior said the redactions were necessary because portions of the back-and-forth were “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 this explanation would seem to make things even more confusing. Indeed, as noted by National Review, how does a specific question about the Mount Vernon closing threaten 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,” National Review posited.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter