Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Park Service

RE: Shutdown Won’t Stop Park Ranger Meeting

On Thursday, I wrote about the poor optics of the decision of the Association of National Park Rangers to go ahead and hold their convention despite the government shutdown. The point was that it was hypocritical for a group whose members that have been central to the administration’s shutdown theatrics to stage a gathering at which many of the speakers would be government employees who would be coming on government time, if not the government dime.

However, as several correspondents have written, ANPR is a private organization, and its members are traveling to it at their own expense. The event is not, strictly speaking, a government function or event. While my post did not state that it was, given that the distinction was not fully explained, readers may have been left with that impression.

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On Thursday, I wrote about the poor optics of the decision of the Association of National Park Rangers to go ahead and hold their convention despite the government shutdown. The point was that it was hypocritical for a group whose members that have been central to the administration’s shutdown theatrics to stage a gathering at which many of the speakers would be government employees who would be coming on government time, if not the government dime.

However, as several correspondents have written, ANPR is a private organization, and its members are traveling to it at their own expense. The event is not, strictly speaking, a government function or event. While my post did not state that it was, given that the distinction was not fully explained, readers may have been left with that impression.

Nevertheless, the point about the inappropriate timing of the convention and the distressing use of the Park Rangers by the administration, still holds. While the ANPR website took pains to inform that the event would continue “despite the current federal government shutdown,” it is good to see that the ANPR website now includes a caveat that the “the program may require changes due to some speakers being unable to attend because of the government shutdown,” although program changes will not address the poor optics of the event.

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Shutdown Won’t Stop Park Ranger Meeting

According to its mission statement, the Association of National Park Rangers is:

…an organization created to communicate for, about and with National Park Service employees of all disciplines; to promote and enhance the professions, spirit and mission of National Park Service employees; to support management and the perpetuation of the National Park Service and the National Park System; and to provide a forum for professional enrichment.

Whether through their own design or the interpretations of White House lawyers, national park rangers have found themselves at the forefront of the theatrics over the government shutdown, as they have expended money and engendered public ire to shut down monuments which, when the government is fully open, are not staffed, and as they have tried to shutter private businesses which during past government shutdowns were not shut down.

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According to its mission statement, the Association of National Park Rangers is:

…an organization created to communicate for, about and with National Park Service employees of all disciplines; to promote and enhance the professions, spirit and mission of National Park Service employees; to support management and the perpetuation of the National Park Service and the National Park System; and to provide a forum for professional enrichment.

Whether through their own design or the interpretations of White House lawyers, national park rangers have found themselves at the forefront of the theatrics over the government shutdown, as they have expended money and engendered public ire to shut down monuments which, when the government is fully open, are not staffed, and as they have tried to shutter private businesses which during past government shutdowns were not shut down.

Well, no one can accuse the national park service of caring too much about optics. At their home page, they proudly announce “RANGER RENDEZVOUS IN ST. LOUIS is scheduled as usual despite the current federal government shutdown — Join us Oct. 27-31 for the annual gathering.” The event promises “the familiar with the cutting edge” and features Peggy O’Dell, NPS deputy director for operations and Gary Machlis, NPS science adviser.

Alas, it’s not inconvenience that most annoys Americans about their government and some federal workers, but rather the hypocrisy. As I blogged here on Monday, the government is throwing septuagenarians and octogenarians out of their homes on federal land, but allowing President Obama’s mother-in-law to reside in a federal building during the shutdown. It is funding Sesame Street, but delaying cancer research. And it temporarily closed down the Amber Alert main page, while letting Michelle Obama’s pet project remain up and running. The problem Americans face—and the reason why leading figures from both Democrats and Republicans are seeing their poll numbers plummet—is simply because the government seems increasingly hostile to the notion of equal application of the law.

Most park rangers are good people, and many probably dislike the policies which the National Park Service chooses to enforce. But, it is hard to claim to be an essential employee and then jet off to St. Louis for a conference. I am not sure the National Park Service fully recognizes the damage it does to its reputation and image with such hypocrisy will last beyond the shutdown.

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