A top government watchdog says the Trump administration violated the law when it used funds taken from park entrance fees to keep national parks open during this year’s partial government shutdown.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in its investigation released Thursday that the Interior Department and National Park Service (NPS) violated the AntiDeficiency Act and the purpose statute by using congressional funds to pay government workers to clean park bathrooms and maintain sites when part of the federal government was shuttered during the record-long shutdown.
“Interior disregarded not only the laws themselves but also the congressional prerogatives that underlie them. Instead of carrying out the law, Interior improperly imposed its own will,” Thomas Armstrong, GAO general counsel, wrote in his 16-page legal opinion.
The opinion followed requests by various House and Senate lawmakers to look into the Trump administration’s January decision to use the park recreational fees, also known as FLREA funds, to keep highly trafficked national parks open despite the shutdown.
The unprecedented decision authorized the use of up to $250 million in funds to keep parks running, according to internal documents obtained by The Hill.
In his letter, Armstrong blasted the Interior Department for its violation of the law and its failure to respond to GAO requests for an explanation, the agency’s legal view of the matter and other information. The details were due by June 7.