Even Members of Congress and Trump Voters and Fans Who Visit Washington –
By Glynn Wilson –
WASHINGTON, D.C. — When New York celebrity businessman Donald J. Trump took office in January, one of his first acts as president was to immediately sign a symbolic memo calling for a “hiring freeze” on federal employees.
The impact of that was minimal yet confusing for people, since Congress and civil service laws have more to say about that than any president. It was done simply for political reasons to put up an appearance of keeping one of Trump’s many campaign promises on an issue that has been a political winner for Republicans since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers in the early 1980s.
But what Mr. Trump and none of his supporters seem to realize is that the federal work force is already hampered in doing it’s job in many areas from lack of support from Congress by previous Republican majorities over the past four decades. Conservatives routinely use that issue to win election and reelection based on the same faulty idea, which in today’s political news climate might be called “fake news.”
One of the agencies impacted by this attitude against hiring federal workers is the U.S. Capitol Police, which is now credited with being heroes in defending and saving the lives of members of Congress at the charity baseball practice in Alexandria on Wednesday, most notably Republican House Whip Steve Scalise.
Another important agency already suffering from an officer shortage is the police force created by President George Washington himself in 1791, the U.S. Park Police, headquartered just north of Washington in Greenbelt, Maryland.
When visitors come to see the nation’s capital city, and national parks all over the country, they are protected by the Park Police, and that includes protestors on all sides of the political spectrum.
According to the union that represents these brave first responders who tend to be top notch people just like the National Park Service rangers they work alongside every day, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the number of Park Police sworn officers is at the lowest point in nearly a decade and down more than 15 percent in the Washington Metro Area since 2010.
“Established by George Washington in 1791, the U.S. Park Police is our first federal constabulary. It provides security for the Statue of Liberty and other assets in New York Harbor, as well as the Presidio and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the most heavily visited national park unit, in San Francisco,” says PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “But the Park Police play an outsized role in the District of Columbia, providing security for visitors, monuments and other park facilities occupying nearly 70 percent of D.C.’s total land area.”
While visitation to D.C.-area park units has been at record levels, topping more than 40 million a year, the number of Park Police officers has shrunk from 652 in Fiscal Year 2010 to just 583 in 2016. The number based in the D.C. area has dropped from 466 to 406 in the same period.
“The presidential inauguration of Donald Trump has sparked repeated massive demonstrations, usually met with counter-demonstrations, with no sign of let-up,” Ruch said.
PEER had to file a lawsuit to obtain updated figures under the Freedom of Information Act. The last annual report available from the agency is for 2013, although there are some numbers from 2015.
“This information should be routinely posted in a timely manner,” Ruch said. “The Park Police apparently does not have enough staff to handle routine information requests.”
According to the most recent statistics, 400 officers responded to more than 25,000 incidents, from traffic accidents to poaching. They conducted nearly 50,000 search and rescues. They handled about 4,500 crimes, ranging from robberies and drunk driving to assaults and vandalism.
“The U.S. Park Police are at a low ebb while facing a rising tide,” Ruch said, noting that the U.S. Park Police may also be facing more cuts under emerging Trump budget plans. “In recent years, this force has not had the personnel to match its mission and that gap is only growing larger.”
The Park Police in D.C. also provides personal security for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has now announced he will seek to cut his department’s budget by 12 percent on Trump’s orders and try to get rid of federal park rangers and turn over even the national park campgrounds to private developers such as Delaware North, driving even more money out of the parks and resulting in even fewer police and other federal employees.
In a recent speech to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, Zinke announced this intention to privatize large parts of the National Park Service.
“As the secretary, I don’t want to be in the business of running campgrounds,” Zinke said. “We are going to have more public-private partnerships soon. I think that’s where the industry should be going.”
We covered this issue before the election, but not enough people paid attention. Now it is becoming a reality.
Secretary Zinke’s proposal to privatize camping at iconic national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon comes following his refusal to demand a budget that adequately funds maintenance of our public lands, according to Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project.
“Secretary Zinke is throwing hardworking park rangers under the bus, while advocating for a budget that cuts essential funding and allows special interests to drill and mine public lands with virtually no accountability,” Saeger said. “Not only has Zinke forgotten where he comes from, he’s making it clear to people across the West that he could care less about their access to public land.”
Long-time political, civil rights and environmental activist David Underhill of Mobile, Alabama, noted that Zinke said more public-private partnerships is “where the industry should be going.”
“Calling a precious legacy like the national parks an ‘industry’ reveals a rot in the soul that will tarnish everything Zinke and his type touch,” Underhill said.
Besides, the size of the federal workforce has been stuck at around 2 million people since the late 1960s, according to the Office of Personnel Management. And in spite of Republican political rhetoric, the government is smaller relatively as the country has grown. The percentage of American workers employed by the federal government has fallen from 5 percent to 2 percent in the past 60 years.
In addition, according to public opinion surveys and other research from the Center for American Progress, 58 percent of Americans support protecting public lands over more private development, oil and gas drilling and uranium mining in places such as the Grand Canyon. Only 28 percent of voters favor more development and drilling. Seventy-five percent of Democrats favor protecting public lands, along with 60 percent of independents, an important voting bloc. Even 37 percent of Republicans come down on the side of public land over private development.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation could be impacted by Trump’s proposed hiring freeze, if Congress were to take it seriously and try to implement it. This comes at the same time the FBI continues to investigate shooter James Hodgkinson, a disgruntled Illinois man who attacked Republican members of Congress and their staffs with a 9 milemeter handgun and a 7.62 caliber rifle.
As some political experts often say, “politics matters” and “elections matter.”
If people vote against their best economic interests based on “fake news,” it’s hard to see how Trump has any chance to even improve the plight of Americans, much less live up to the campaign slogan he stole from Ronald Reagan, to “Make America Great Again.”
Seeing that America remains great might include the need to hire more federal employees, including park police officers and park rangers. As we demonstrated in our investigations of conditions out west, private employees do not share the same values as public employees. They are less educated about the mission and, like many areas of American life now, their jobs are all about the money.
“If we are ever going to have any chance to mend the partisan divide in this country, we need to elect leaders who understand the concept of public service over private profit,” Underhill added. “Mr. Trump and his team seem to have no clue about such things.”
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.