Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House oversight committee, is asking the Obama administration to explain how it could allow Occupy protesters to destroy $400,000 worth of landscaping and refurbishment by setting up camp in a D.C. park.
Issa wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday requesting he reply to an eight-page letter detailing the decisions of the National Park Service to withhold evictions of protesters who had clearly set up a tent city despite NPS' rules barring camping at the park.
Issa said NPS' laxity toward enforcing its own rules has resulted in protesters killing "newly planted grass that had been funded by the stimulus" and "wasting much of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money used to rehabilitate McPherson Square."
"While the merits of this stimulus funding are debatable, we can all agree that once the federal government invested the funds, no government agency should have allowed it to be damaged or destroyed when it legally could have been prevented," Issa wrote.
“The National Park Service and U.S. Park Police are firmly committed to upholding Americans’ First Amendment rights while also enforcing our nation’s laws, guarding public safety, and protecting the resources with which we are entrusted," Adam Fetcher, a spokesman of the Interior Department said in a statement to Fox News.
"To that end, the U.S. Park Police have been working closely with the District of Columbia, the Metropolitan Police Department, the DC Department of Health and others to ensure that demonstrations associated with the ‘Occupy’ movement are conducted safely and in compliance with the law," the statement said.
Issa pointed to Recovery.gov, which says Fort Myer Construction Corporation was awarded $424,600 to rehabilitate the park with new grass, concrete curbs, refurbished benches, light poles, water fountains, paint, chain fencing, trash cans and light meters.
Issa said much of the refurbishment was "damaged or destroyed" by Salazar's department permitting "illegal camping" in the park. Issa went into great detail about NPS' definition of camping, and accused NPS of rejecting its own rules by declaring the protest a "24-hour vigil" rather than camping.
"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,” Issa added. The rehabilitation work was completed in Spring 2011.
Among other things, the letter asked Salazar to document communications between the Interior Department and the White House regarding the Occupy protests as well as NPS communications about its deliberations on whether to evict the demonstrators.
Last month, NPS warned the group that it would be evicted from the park, which is just blocks from the White House. D.C. police tried to forcibly remove them earlier this month when they tried to build a wooden structure without a permit.
But the protesters filed a motion with a district judge who approved an injunction to allow the group to remain in the park until it receives notice from NPS 24 hours in advance that they are to vacate. Without it, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg say they can not be forced to leave. He then scheduled motions for Jan. 31, allowing protesters to claim victory against any "surprise" evictions.
"We are reviewing the letter from Chairman Issa and will respond accordingly,” Fetcher said.