Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the committee, sparked the investigation with a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week, accusing Occupy D.C. of damaging McPherson Square after $400,000 in taxpayer funds were spent in recent years to improve it. He also questioned whether the Park Service has disregarded its own rules by making exceptions for the 10-week-old protest.
The OccupyDC encampments at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza may be unique among the Occupy sites because they are located on federal land. Federal parks are under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, part of the US Department of the Interior. In using his authority as House Oversight Chairman, Issa may have found a way to harass the Movement gaining steam for opposing Big Business’s undue influence over politics and simultaneously pin Obama with favoritism toward the leftists.
An entrepreneur and head of a business empire worth hundreds of millions, Issa epitomizes the enmeshment of wealth and Congressional power. In August, the New York Times ran a lengthy piece about Issa’s numerous business transactions during his Congressional term and how he may have profited from his current position.
Department of Interior officials haven’t yet responded to Issa’s letter. The National Park Service sent a memorandum to both McPherson Park and Freedom Plaza on November 23, notifying them that they would be stepping up their patrols “due to increasing problems of public urination and defecation, illegal drug and alcohol use, and assaults.” Some took this notice as the first step toward eviction, but the NPS emphatically denied the intention to evict through their spokesperson, Carol Johnson.
McPherson Park may have tested the National Park Service’s limits on December 4 when it erected a 15-foot tall modular wooden shelter. National Park Police immediately moved in to insist that it be taken down, resulting in a day-long standoff, 31 arrests and the fear of immediate eviction.
While the Park Service still seems tolerant of the camps, there are rumblings from the business sector that they aren’t going to suffer the hippies any more. The Park Service will feel the pressure from below from District grousers, and now from above with Darrell Issa’s investigation.