GAO: Feds violated law by opening national parks during shutdown

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the Trump Administration violated federal law during a five week partial government shutdown, by using money from entrance fees at national parks to pay for regular operations to keep those facilities open to the public.

In a 17 page report sent to lawmakers in Congress, the GAO said officials at the Interior Department acknowledged that they had used entrance fees during the shutdown in order to circumvent the effect of the federal government funding lapse, an accounting move not approved by the Congress.

"With this decision, we will consider such violations in the future to be knowing and willful violations of the Act," the GAO wrote, saying Interior officials "must report the violation to Congress and enumerate actions it has taken to prevent recurring violations in the event of future funding lapses."

"The Secretary of Interior seems to think the rule of law doesn’t apply to the Trump administration," said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).

"The Administration’s decision to use these fees for basic day-to-day operations during President Trump’s shutdown is a clear violation of the law," said McCollum, as regulations require those fees to be used only to 'improve and enhance' national parks.

During a government shutdown in 2013, the Obama Administration closed national parks, drawing stern criticism from Republicans, who said there was no reason to close the facilities to the public.

Republicans made clear that things would be different in the Trump Administration during the Trump Administration, as the national parks would be open - but the GAO said such a move “tears at the very fabric of Congress’s constitutional power of the purse.”

In the report, the GAO said any future move to repeat this effort would be considered a “knowing and willful violation of the Act, subjecting Interior officials to penalties.”

“Instead of carrying out the law, Interior improperly imposed its own will. Interior cannot select which restraints apply to its appropriations and when these restraints apply,” the report bluntly stated.

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“The American people pay these park fees to make improvements at our national parks – but instead the Trump administration illegally diverted them to limit the public relations fallout from its costly and unnecessary government shutdown,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).

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