Showdown: Darrell Issa wants a reckoning with Obama, not Occupy

The Artist and General McPherson

Does Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) want January 3 to be a day of reckoning for Occupy DC-K Street? On December 12, Rep. Issa–Chairman of the House Oversight Committee–read the riot act to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In a four-page letter, he ripped into the DOI and the National Park Service for allowing the Occupy DC protest to pitch tents in McPherson Park starting in October.

Issa essentially lists four core concerns in the letter: legality and enforcement, damages to McPherson Park, who’s been letting them stay, and the motivation behind letting them stay. He’s given the DOI until January 3 to respond. But make no mistake–Issa launched this paper airplane across the National Mall hoping it would drop a bomb on the White House.

First, let’s dispense–at least in part–with a sum that’s been getting a lot of airtime: $400,000. That’s how much money the stimulus bill allotted to a McPherson Park renovation project, and how much damage Issa says Occupy DC has done to McPherson Park by killing the grass. $400,000 in stimulus funds was in fact budgeted to the rehabilitation, which a NPS spokesperson said included “new grass, concrete curbs, refurbished benches, new light poles, water fountains, new paint, new chain fencing, 12 new trash cans and new light meters.” The Contracts-Award Summary also lists removal of a Chinese elm, installation of electrical conduits and waterline/irrigation system, and site grading. The project status is listed as 50% completed.

Although Issa is sure that the protestors have “ecologically damaged the park significantly,” he doesn’t allege that they’ve done more than kill the grass–which they’ve obviously done. Planting grass didn’t cost $400,000, so let’s stop saying that Occupy DC squandered hundreds of thousands in stimulus funds for a project that isn’t even completed yet. It’s perfectly legitimate to complain about however much the grass cost, but it didn’t cost that much.

Oh, by the way, Darrell Issa wants you to know that he’s not condoning Obama’s evil Stimulus bill, since “the merits of this stimulus funding are debatable.” The Contracts-Award Summary says the park renovation creates 26 jobs.

And just so you know, Rep. Issa slashed the National Park Service budget by $101 million when he voted “aye” last March on the Continuing Appropriations Bill, the stopgap budget agreement that staved off a government shutdown for two weeks. That’s how much Rep. Issa cares about our National Parks.

Even though most of the letter is given over to hand-wringing over ecological damage and squandering stimulus funds, it states its real purpose up front: “This situation raises questions about why those decisions were made, who participated in making them, and whether political judgments played a role in not enforcing the law.” Among the requests for information, Issa demands that the DOI hand over “all communications between the NPS, DOI, and the White House involving the Occupy DC protests in McPherson Square.”

This is a fishing expedition hoping to finger Obama with sympathy for Occupy. Ironically, while claiming to investigate possible improper political motivations in policy enforcement, the House Oversight Chairman is exploiting his position for political scandal-making during an election year. I suspect we’ll see some creative spinning even if the DOI has had no contact with the Administration about McPherson Park.

UPDATE: The National Park Service spokesperson says the grass itself only cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

UPDATE 1/3/12: Not surprisingly, the Department of Interior couldn’t finish the report over the holidays. (What kind of Grinch makes a deadline like January 3?) Issa is giving them until the end of the week to hand it over.

UPDATE 1/4/12: The Department of Interior tells Examiner reporter Aubrey Whelan that they will respond to Rep. Issa’s request “in the coming days.” (In college, after you begged your professor for an extension, did you ever keep working at that paper because it was already officially overdue?)

UPDATE 1/10/12: Deputy director of operations for the Park Service Peggy O’Dell tells the Washington Post that the sod only cost $8,000.


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