Shutdown pain: Selective closures at the USDA

Government | Crazy ways the Obama administration is maximizing the shutdown pain
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 10/11/13, 01:40 pm

The government shutdown doesn’t mean all facets of government grind to a halt. In fact, only a small percentage of the government’s 4.4 million employees have been ordered to stay home from work. Many government functions continue uninterrupted. And the Obama administration has some discretion in how painful it wants the shutdown to be. The following list includes some gratuitous examples of heavy-handed closures, delays, and forced sacrifices.

  • Whole hog? Farmers trying to sell their corn or hogs are having a terrible time knowing what to charge. Normally, they get up-to-date market information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the website is offline due to the shutdown.  “It starts out as an annoyance. It goes to frustration. Then a headache,” Illinois farmer Brian Duncan told CBS News. Confidence is waning on the commodities trading floor, and government assistance has halted. But someone at the USDA is working, because the agency went after poultry producer Foster Farms earlier this week over a salmonella outbreak, according to ABC news.
  • We don’t need your help. Before police chased him away, chain-saw sculptor Chris Cox spent several days tidying up the grounds around the Washington, D.C. memorials. The South Carolina resident emptied overflowing trash cans, used his chain saw to clear a branch from the path on the reflecting pool, and cleared trails with a leaf blower. He was mowing the lawn at the Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday when he attracted a crowd. He told them, “The building behind me serves as a moral compass, not only for our country but for the world. And over my dead body are we going to find trash pouring out of these trash cans,” The Washington Post reports.
  • Nice try. Some visitors to the Grand Canyon have gotten so fed-up with the shutdown that they tried to sneak into the national wonder using dirt roads or trails. USA Today reports that rangers have caught and issued citations to 21 people. Each of them have a mandatory federal court date. While park employees are on furlough, Grand Canyon Chief Ranger Bill Wright said law enforcement will be patrolling the park 24 hours per day.
  • No having fun. Thousands of youth expecting to compete in San Francisco’s 30th annual sandcastle contest will be disappointed. Ocean Beach, though it normally has no one working on the premises and requires no funds to operate, is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is closed as part of the partial-shutdown. A local arts advocacy nonprofit called Leap, had organized the event, according to PJ Media.
  • You will be assimilated. The Cliff House, an oceanfront restaurant in San Francisco that employs 170 people, had to shut down for a second time this week. The Inside Scoop reports that the restaurant re-opened its doors in defiance of the shutdown requirements that all concession businesses on federal land must close. In a statement, the restaurant’s owners wrote, “As a successful, independent, privately owned business that does not depend on any tax dollars or federal funding, the Cliff House must have income. Having been shut down for four days the Cliff House has already assumed considerable financial loss.” After two days of continuing to serve seafood with a view, officials forced the restaurant to close again today and for the rest of the shutdown.
  • No running. With their car lights flashing, two park rangers handed marathon runner John Bell a $100 fine after he jogged through Valley Forge National Historical Park on Sunday. He parked in an unmarked, unbarricaded parking lot, and did not see any signs that the park was closed. He told CBS News in Philadelphia that he saw many other runners and bikers in the park, and never thought the park was closed. “Even if it was, I’d be thinking, ‘Oh, they’re just closing the visitor center,’” he said. Bell plans to take the ticket to federal court.
  • No peeking. Tourists wanting a peek at Mt. Rushmore despite the national park closures found cones along highway viewing areas this week. That’s right: not only did National Park Service close hiking trails and programs at South Dakota’s famous landmark, they also blocked visitors from pulling off the highway to snap photos. The Argus Leader reported frustration from state officials, including Jim Hagen, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. “I just don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish,” he said.
  • America’s Gestapo. Tourists from Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States were in Yellowstone National Park when the lockdown came. An armed guard kept them locked for hours in a hotel while park employees treated them with contempt, the Newburyport News reports. Many of the tourists had limited English skills and thought they were under arrest. American tourist Pat Vaillancourt said, “We’ve become a country of fear, guns, and control. It was like they brought out the armed forces.” When the Park Service finally let them leave, their bus was not allowed to stop at any of the open bathrooms along the 2.5-hour trip out of the park, including at a dude ranch that was warned its license would be revoked if it allowed them to use the facilities.
  • No dogs allowed. Children with cancer at the National Institute of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Maryland will no longer get visits from therapy dogs, according to National Public Radio. The National Institute of Health Clinical Center closed its doors to therapy dogs and new patients. The facility known as “House of Hope” usually takes in about 200 new patients each week for clinical trials. The grant program run by NIH is also shut down.
  • World War II Memorial. Although this popular Washington, D.C., memorial is not normally fenced in, allowing visitors to wander around at their leisure, the Obama administration ordered barricades put up around the marble stones to prevent anyone from visiting. But a determined group of veterans who came to the capital specifically to visit the monument early last week didn’t let the barricades stand in their way. With help from a few congressmen, the vets moved the barriers aside and took their tour as planned.
  • Selective shutdown? As if to prove that the Obama administration is making the shutdown as painful as possible, the government closed only certain monuments: those in more prominent locations. While the National Mall, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the World War II Memorial are now behind barricades and guards, the Constitutional Gardens and the Japanese Americans Memorial remain open to the public. Doc Hastings, chairman of House Natural Resource Committee, said this selectivity is “proof that the Obama administration is only playing politics …”
  • Missing Mass. While the government is closed, soldiers may not celebrate Mass on base. Non-active duty priests who work as contractors on military bases will be subject to arrest if they attempt to perform their duties, even as volunteers.
  • Veggies over abduction. Although they don’t require people to keep them operational, the government shut down websites for federal programs, including the Amber Alert system that notifies Americans of child kidnapping cases. Why? Ostensibly to keep hackers from disrupting the sites while federal IT department employees are on furlough. But the online blackout didn’t apply to First Lady Michelle Obama’s, which promotes more exercise and healthy eating habits for children.
  • No grace. Compared to previous years, this shutdown is more crushing in the way the administration is enforcing closure rules. According to Derrick A. Crandall, a National Park Hospitality Association counselor who helps run concessions in the national parks, the Park Service has cracked down more now than it did during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns. “Last time around, we saw some superintendents that tended to recognize hardship and perhaps be a little more forgiving of hard deadlines,” he told The Washington Times. “This year, from what I’m being told, there were some superintendents who acted to shut down ops before the Thursday 6 p.m. deadline.”
  • Outcast. Private homeowners on Nevada’s Lake Mead had to leave their vacation homes, which sit on federal land. Park rangers gave residents 24 hours to collect their belongings and leave. They can’t come back until the end of the government shutdown. In a statement sent to a local television station, the Park Service said “overnight stays are not permitted until a budget is passed and the park can reopen.”
  • Suffering required. The Grand Canyon National Park remains closed and losing about $1.3 million each day for Arizona, according to The New York Times. The closure is crushing the local economy, as businesses depend entirely on tourism revenue. Fox News reported that unlike in previous years, the government will allow no third-party funding for the national park, despite several offers. Red Feather Properties pledged $25,000; other business have pledged a total of $125,000, and the town council voted to give $200,000 to reopen certain portions of the canyon. But the administration had no trouble accepting a $10 million loan to Head Start to keep the pre-school program running in six states.
  • No way to pay. Families of military members killed in combat usually receive a check from Uncle Sam for $100,000. Known as the “death gratuity,” it helps with any immediate travel and funeral costs the families encounter. But since the shutdown, five military families whose loved ones were killed over the weekend received phone calls informing them they would not be receiving the check. Gyle Tzemach Lemmon, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told Today News, “When people realize that they can serve and fight for their country, but that their families will get an I.O.U. until the shutdown is over, I think they’re just shocked.”
  • Shop elsewhere. Military commissaries, on-base grocery stores offering military members access to tax-free food and other items, are closed across the nation. About 12 million people normally shop at the 246 stores worldwide, according to The Press Enterprise. Retired Air Force veteran Mitchell Geriminsky, 59, called the antics “ridiculous,” and said “For them to close down and hurt the retirement community and also active-duty and reserves is ludicrous. It really is.”
  • Trip canceled. Two New Hampshire families had planned a 20-day rafting adventure on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon this week. Despite having paid $2,000 for the permit, park rangers told them the trip would have to wait until after the government shutdown. Trip leader Pete Wisniewski had requested the permit for the last 18 years. When the National Park Service granted it six months ago, both families started scrambling to set aside time from work and school, get pet-sitters, and train themselves in outdoor survival.
  • Grounded. The 58th annual Miramar Air Show, an electrifying display of formation flying from top jet pilots, did not happen this year. One day before the show was slated to begin just north of San Diego, Defense Department organizers learned that although the event was paid for, it had to stop. Todd Gloria, San Diego’s interim mayor, told Fox News, “I’m extremely disappointed in the political dysfunction that brought us to this point.”
  • That’s history. A living history farm in McLean, Va., closed due to the government shutdown, despite the fact that it is privately owned and operated. Claude Moore Colonial Farm director Anna Eberly told PJ Media, “We can’t do anything.” The National Park Service provides “no staff or resources to operate the farm,” she said, so they have remained open in previous shutdowns. But this time, park police removed staff and volunteers for events, and hung signs saying “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is closed.”
  • What (or who) remains working? President Barack Obama’s top chef, although other White House staffers have been furloughed. The presidential golf course. And the Camp David retreat.
Samantha Gobba

Samantha is a freelancer for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, and she holds a bechelor degree in English from Hillsdale College and a multiple subject teaching credential from California State University. Samantha resides in Chico, Calif., with her husband and their two sons.

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