The department doesn’t have a list of what will remain open and what won’t, but the general rule is that the sites that require the least staffing will be the most accessible. Prime examples in Washington are the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and the World War II Memorial; tourists can see all four without stopping first in a visitor’s center or passing through a manned security gate. Across the country, many parks have concessions that are privately operated, and those that don’t require assistance from federal employees—such as unlocking gates or clearing snow—may remain open. Officials said they are prioritizing “the most accessible and iconic areas” of parks, and they’ll do the same with federal lands, which account for 20 percent of the nation’s land mass.
While a majority of the nation’s more than 800,000 federal workers would be furloughed during a shutdown, law-enforcement officers and other “essential” employees would be exempt.
The administration’s shutdown plans were first reported Thursday by The Washington Post. The strategy is designed not only to reduce inconvenience to travelers, but also to reduce Democrats’ political leverage in the showdown on Capitol Hill. As the party of limited government, Republicans have taken the blame for shutdowns in the recent past, including the one in 2013. So in a GOP administration, it’s in the party’s interest to make a shutdown seem as painless as possible.
Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have warned about the impact of a possible lapse in funding on the military, but unlike officials in the Obama administration, they have downplayed the effect on domestic agencies. “A short-term shutdown would not affect anybody’s checks,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, said Wednesday on the Fox Business Network. A conservative former congressman who backed the 2013 shutdown, Mulvaney noted that the next pay date for federal workers isn’t for another week after the deadline.
But the administration’s move to keep national parks and lands partially open drew immediate criticism from Democrats, who questioned whether it would be legal under federal law and suggested it would risk both public safety and the security of the parks. “If we do have a shutdown, the potential harms to natural and historic resources—and to public safety—are even worse than they’d normally be because this administration is in over its head, is unprofessional, and has no plan in place,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “Allowing agencies to drift without clear guidance during a shutdown the president’s party created is the worst way to govern, and it looks like that’s where we’re headed.”
The federal Antideficiency Act controls what parts of the government can continue operating during a lapse in appropriations from Congress. Programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are funded through mandatory spending, although the offices that process applications and payments would close. The military is largely unaffected, though paychecks could be delayed. (Congress usually makes sure that even furloughed employees are paid retroactively for the days they missed.)