Browsed by
Tag: Rocky Mountain National Park

Government Shutdown? Maybe for the Best

Government Shutdown? Maybe for the Best

An earlier version of his column appeared in The Hill on February 6, 2018.

Once again, this year we were threatened with a federal government “shutdown.”

Well, for the future this citizen out in the hinterland says, “Bring it on!”

Most of the interrupted functions aren’t really constitutional anyway, and we could do well without them. In fact, we should defund some of them permanently to help close the federal deficit. Most of the affected workers wouldn’t be out of work for long: Right now the private sector is desperate to use more efficiently the kind of skilled people now employed, and sometimes ineptly utilized, by the federal government.

I put the word “shutdown” in quotation marks because it is really a misnomer. Labeling it as such has been a huge rhetorical coup by apologists for unbridled federal power. In fact, it’s just a temporary pause in the otherwise-inexorable growth of federal spending.

Sometimes this pause occurs because members of Congress can’t agree how much to increase expenditures. (They rarely propose reducing them.) Sometimes it happens because they can’t agree on raising the debt limit. The D.C. crowd considers not raising the debt limit particularly disastrous because it actually forces the federal government to balance its budget in the interim.

Now, let’s look at the agencies whose operations may be interrupted in event of a “shutdown.” The list comes courtesy of Keep in mind, however, that the list is misleading because funding for some of their major operations is on statutory auto-pilot — “mandatory spending,” which is D.C.-speak for “we let it continue without renewing it annually.”

For example, even though the Department of Health and Human Services is on the list below, during a “shutdown” it will continue to cut checks for Social Security and for most of ObamaCare.

So, with that caveat in mind, let’s review the list of agencies that may suffer partial closure:

  • Commerce Department, except the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Department of Education.
  • Department of Energy (except certain safety functions remain open).
  • Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Food and Drug Administration.
  • Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Department of the Interior (although the Department will not be shutting down the national parks this time).
  • The Internal Revenue Service, except those processing tax returns.
  • The Department of Labor, including Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • NASA.
  • The National Institute of Health.
  • The Smithsonian.

Retrieve your pocket Constitution. Look through it and identify those functions the Constitution actually authorizes. Then go over the list of “shutdown” agencies again.

The Constitution empowers the federal government to regulate commerce, which encompasses many functions of the Commerce Department and the Food and Drug Administration. The Constitution also authorizes national defense (including, in part, NASA), and administration of the District of Columbia (including, by implication, the Smithsonian).

But otherwise you won’t find much overlap between what the Constitution authorizes and what a shutdown would interrupt. The Constitution contains not a single word about regulating or funding urban development, education, or labor. But it does contain the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which reserve such matters to the states and the people.

Some agencies subject to closure already are duplicated, or can be duplicated, by the private sector or by interstate compact, rendering federal involvement unnecessary. Others are operations state governments could handle easily.

For example, during the 2013 shutdown, the Department of the Interior announced it was closing Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. No problem: Colorado state government kicked in the money necessary to keep the park open, and it stayed open. A few Coloradans began to ask, “Who needs the feds to run the park after all?”

That kind of question is the real threat of a prolonged government shutdown. It is a threat to federal politicians, functionaries, grant recipients, and the complicit segment of the mass media: Americans might come to realize they can get along very nicely without much of the federal bureaucracy. The ease with which Colorado funded Rocky Mountain National Park is a case in point. In fact, it may be the reason the federal government will not be closing the parks this time.

If, unlike me, you really are worried about a government shutdown, then be assured: Congress will not allow it to continue for too long. Otherwise, Americans might discover just how disposable most federal agencies are.

One Reason Government Keeps Expanding and Freedom Keeps Shrinking

One Reason Government Keeps Expanding and Freedom Keeps Shrinking

Rob in the Colorado Rockies
Rob in the Colorado Rockies

Find out how much federal land ownership the Constitution really authorizes! Get Rob’s book, The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant.


Mary Taylor Young’s work, Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years (2014) contains this profile (p.151) of George B. Hartzog, Jr., the Assistant Superintendent of the park from 1955 to 1957:

“He went on to become National Park Service director from 1964 to 1972. . . He oversaw the acquisition of seventy-two new sites for parks, seashores, and historical monuments . . . Under his leadership, the National Park System more than doubled in size . . . Park Service historian Robert M. Utley described Hartzog as ‘the greatest director in the history of the service.’”

Keep in mind that whatever may have been the benefits from expanding the National Park System, Hartzog’s legacy was one of bigger government and less human freedom. Less freedom because when land becomes part of a national park, citizens may no longer buy, sell, occupy, own, or lease that land. Citizens may not use the land for anything but a narrow range of activities. Classification as a national park also impairs state government’s jurisdiction over territory within its borders.

Ms. Young did not mention that Hartzog is famous (or infamous) for another reason: He pioneered the notorious “Washington Monument Syndrome”—the bureaucratic strategy of blackmailing politicians and the public by diverting available funds to unpopular uses and away from popular ones. The July 5, 2008 Washington Post summarized it this way: “In 1969, when his budget was cut by [President] Nixon, Mr. Hartzog made a daring countermove: He closed all the national parks, including the Washington Monument and Grand Canyon, two days a week.”

Of course, Nixon should have fired Hartzog—who was, in any event, a Democratic holdover hostile to the conservative message the voters had sent in the 1968 election. But it took the unprincipled Nixon three years to dump him. According to the Post, “In 1972, Mr. Hartzog revoked a permit to use a private dock in Biscayne National Park in Florida. The permit was used by Bebe Rebozo, a close friend of Nixon’s. The president promptly fired Mr. Hartzog.”

Here’s more about what the Post wrote about this consummate bureaucrat:

“In almost nine years as director, Mr. Hartzog used personal charisma, political savvy and deep-rooted knowledge of the nation’s park system to increase the scope of Park Service programs and to raise their popularity. He ran the agency like a benevolent dictator . . . .

“He added more than 70 new areas to the Park Service, totaling 2.7 million acres, and doubled attendance at the nation’s parks and historic sites. He was also the only Park Service director to be profiled in the New Yorker magazine . . .

“‘He was an empire builder,’ said Robert M. Utley, who was the Park Service’s chief historian under Mr. Hartzog. ‘His vision fit right into Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society ideas.’

“In 1966, Mr. Hartzog was a key proponent of the National Historic Preservation Act, which increased the range of historically significant properties and created the National Register of Historic Places. The register is administered by the Park Service. . . .

Clemson University memorializes this empire-building bureaucrat with a lecture series in his honor. The Park Service recognizes outstanding volunteers with “Hartzog Awards.”

Now, here’s a question for you: How often have you seen that kind of respect and recognition awarded to a public servant (other than perhaps Ronald Reagan) who actually expanded freedom or trimmed government?

Government will continue to grow and freedom diminish as long as we celebrate people like Hartzog and disregard those anonymous public servants (and believe me, they exist) who trim the size of government and give the public top value for taxes paid.