GAO: Trump DOI Violated the Law Using National Park Fees to Keep Parks Open During Shutdown

Sept. 5, 2019 – Today, U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) and U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) the chair and ranking member of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, respectively, released the following statements today following the Government Accountability Office’s official opinion on the administration’s use of Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) funds during the 35-day partial government shutdown:

“This opinion from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – the chief accountability officer for the United States government – determines that the Trump administration violated appropriations law,” McCollum said. “Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) funds are the fees visitors pay when enjoying our national parks. The law states that the money will be used to improve and enhance our parks. 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.

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“The Secretary of Interior seems to think the rule of law doesn’t apply to the Trump administration. This is a clear violation of the constitution and the basic separation of powers between the executive branch and Congress. Our nation’s founders made the power of the purse explicit in Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution: ‘No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.’

“The Administration should now immediately report this violation and take corrective actions as required by law. This should put the administration on notice that their illegal actions will not be tolerated. As stated in the GAO opinion: ‘With this decision, we will consider such violations in the future to be knowing and willful violations….’ and I agree.”

“Today, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has confirmed our concerns: that the Trump Interior Department violated federal appropriations laws when it took the unprecedented step of cannibalizing park fees to pay to keep parks open during the Trump government shutdown,” Udall said. “Their assurances at the time that their actions were legal have proven false, and there should be consequences for this violation. 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. Leaving parks open during the shutdown without staff to  protect visitor safety and natural and cultural resources was reckless in itself. But now we know the Trump administration went even further by breaking federal law to use fee revenues to soften the public backlash to the disastrous effects of the needless Trump shutdown on our parks and public lands. While we hope that President Trump will not lead us into yet another government shutdown, I hope this GAO decision will convince his Interior Department that using park fees in this way is not a ‘useful model’ for future shutdowns, as they have claimed.”

View the full GAO decision:

Department of the Interior – Activities at National Parks during the Fiscal Year 2019 Lapse in Appropriations

https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/701165.pdf