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Profile: National Park Service (NPS)
National Park Service (NPS) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Gary Walters. [Source: C-SPAN]Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, and a few of his colleagues take the time to clear up the White House grounds ready for when President Bush returns, and even continue with the task after the White House is evacuated. Earlier this morning, many White House staffers were busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic, which was scheduled to take place this evening (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). About 170 to 180 picnic tables have been set up on the South Lawn for the event. After he learns that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Walters decides to start moving the picnic tables off the lawn so Bush’s helicopter will be able to land on the grounds when the president returns to the White House. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Values in World Thought, 4/4/2006; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016]
Usher Arranges to Clear the Lawn - He coordinates with the National Park Service, which is in charge of the White House grounds, to determine who will be clearing away the picnic tables. [Brower, 2015, pp. 257] He then sets about moving the tables. “I got the staff together and started sending them out to the south grounds—anybody I could think of—because I knew that we had to try to move as quickly as possible,” he will later recall. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] However, at about 9:45 a.m., the White House is evacuated after the Secret Service learns of a possible threat against it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 2001 ; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Staffers Continue Clearing the Grounds, despite the Danger - Around this time, Walters sees the smoke coming from the Pentagon, which was attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and realizes the White House could be hit next. And yet he decides that he needs to stay where he is in order to clear up the grounds. “As far as I was concerned, my responsibility was there at the White House,” he will comment. [Brower, 2015, pp. 258] “I knew we had to get those tables out,” he will state, adding, “I even felt more urgency, since obviously this was a coordinated attack now.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] While the Secret Service is ordering people to run for their lives, Walters grabs a few of his colleagues and tells them they need to stay and help clear away the picnic tables. “I got the word that everybody was evacuating, but we had something that we needed to do,” he will comment. [Brower, 2015, pp. 258] After hearing that another suspicious plane is approaching, however, Walters and his colleagues go to the southeast knoll, a rise in the White House lawn, and just stand there, watching the sky and waiting.
Lawn Is Cleared by Early Afternoon - By around 11:00 a.m., they are becoming impatient. Walters therefore says, “Guys, let’s go move some picnic tables.” The men then start carrying the picnic tables off the lawn. A police officer joins them and eventually about a dozen people are helping them to move the tables. By around 1:00 p.m. all of the tables have been removed from the lawn. At about 3:45 p.m., Walters is called by someone from the military, who asks him to clear the South Lawn so the president’s helicopter will be able to land there. Walters laughs and says this has already been done. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] The president’s helicopter, with Bush on board, will land on the South Lawn at around 6:55 p.m. (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 263]
Usher Will Later Justify His Actions - Walters will, in 2016, explain why he made the effort to clear up the White House grounds, despite the danger to himself and his colleagues. “One of the things that I turned to in my own mind on 9/11 was the role that the White House plays in disasters, wars,” he will say, adding, “People have a tendency to turn to the White House.” He will continue: “And I knew that the president wasn’t gonna be satisfied talking from a bunker somewhere or away from the White House. And that’s why we put the effort that we did into cleaning up the south grounds, so that [his] helicopter could land there. That was what the American people were used to seeing—the presidential helicopter coming in—and the president was going to address the nation from the Oval Office.” [Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016]
Emission by type of vehicle [Source: National Park Service] (click image to enlarge)The National Park Service (NPS) announces a plan to reverse a Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The NPS proposal would limit the number of snowmobiles permitted in the parks per day to 1,100 by December 2003. However, beginning with the 2004-2005 winter season, there would be no restrictions on the number of snowmobiles permitted in the parks. [Associated Press, 11/12/2002; Associated Press, 11/12/2002] The proposal is made despite the National Park Service having received some 360,000 emails and letters on the issue, eighty percent of which were in support of the ban. [United Press International, 11/11/2002] Lifting the ban on snowmobiles would have a considerable impact given that according to the EPA’s own figures, the emissions from a single snowmobile can equal that of 100 automobiles. [Blue Water Network, 1999; National Park Service, 5/2000; Environmental Protection Agency, 2001] The EPA had recommended in 1999 that snowmobiles be barred from the two parks in order to provide the “best available protection” for air quality, wildlife and the health of people visiting and working in the park. After coming to office, the Bush administration ordered a review of the policy as part of a settlement with snowmobile manufacturers who had challenged the ban. [Associated Press, 11/12/2002]
The National Park Service (NPS) releases its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which favors an option to reverse the November 2000 decision to ban all snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by the 2003-2004 winter season (see November 12, 2002). The new EIS—done at a cost of $2.4 million to taxpayers—results from the settlement of a lawsuit that had been filed by the state of Wyoming and the snowmobile industry to reverse the November 2000 ban. The study concludes that the “preferred option” would be to phase in a requirement that all snowmobiles used in the park be four-stroke sleds and that all operators be required to either hire a guide, pass a guide’s course or accompany someone who has passed it. [Yellowstone National Park, 2/20/2003; Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003] Former NPS leaders condemn the report’s recommendation, insisting that the 2000 plan—backed by earlier scientific studies which had determined a strict ban would be the best policy to protect air quality, sound emissions, wildlife and human health, and safety—remains the most popular with the public. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003; Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003] Critics have warned that reversing the ban would generate significantly more air pollution in the park—twice the carbon monoxide and six times the nitrogen oxide as the November 2000 ban. [US Congress, 3/13/2002; Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003] The decision to halt the phase-out is well-received by industry leaders. “We are grateful that the Bush administration has given this issue a closer look,” Clark Collins, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, tells the Boseman’s Daily Chronicle. [Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 2/21/2003]
The National Park Service decides to reverse the Clinton administration’s decision to prohibit snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The decision ignores earlier scientific analysis concluding that a snowmobile ban is the preferred policy to protect air quality, sound emissions, wildlife, human health and safety (see February 20, 2003). [USA Today, 4/24/2003]
Interior Secretary Gale Norton presents President George Bush with a report detailing the achievements of the National Park Service. The report calls attention to the $2.9 billion that the Bush administration says it has set aside for the park’s maintenance backlog. [National Park Service, 7/2/2003] But the figure is misleading because it actually refers the park’s entire maintenance budget. Only $370 million of that amount represents funds allocated to the maintenance backlog. Moreover, as the National Parks Conservation Association notes, “the president’s budget is [actually] contributing to the backlog by ignoring the annual needs of the national parks, which continue to operate with only two-thirds of the needed funding.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 7/9/2003; CNN, 8/15/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003] According to the General Accounting Office, the Park Service needs upwards of $6.8 billion to complete the deferred maintenance and repairs. Critics of the administration’s record also note that the administration’s lax enforcement of clean air policies and its plan to replace some parks’ staff with private contractors are serious threats to the national park system. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/16/2003]
The National Park Service issues a final rule announcing that the number of snowmobiles permitted in Yellowstone Park will be restricted to 950 per day when parks open for the winter season on December 17. Eighty percent of the sleds must be commercially guided and meet “best available technology” (BAT) requirements. The remaining twenty percent will not have to be BAT. For the 2004-2005 winter, regulations on the maximum daily number of snowmobiles will remain the same, except that all snowmobiles will be required to meet BAT standards. Similar rules will be imposed on the use of snowmobiles in Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway. [National Park Service, 12/11/2003] The decision is made in spite of the fact that independent federal studies had previously determined that reversing the Clinton-era phase-out would result in a significant increase of carbon monoxide pollution and nitrogen oxide emissions. [Caspar Star Tribune, 2/21/2003]
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Rich Levernier, RETA Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, James Ford, Bill Richardson, Anson Franklin, National Park Service, Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Of course, we don’t want to be embarrassed,” he adds. Included in the memo is a list of suggested cut backs: “Close the visitor center on all federal holidays,” “Eliminate all guided ranger tours,” “Let the manicured grasslands grow all summer,” “Eliminate life guard services at 1 of the park’s 3 guarded beaches,” “Close the visitor center for the months of November, January & February,” “Turn one of our four campgrounds over to a concession permittee,” and “Close the park every Sunday and Monday.” The Philadelphia office also instructs the superintendents on how they are supposed to explain the parks’ reduced level of service to the media. For example, the memo says that if they need to inform the public on the change in “hours or days of operation for example, that you state what the park’s plans are and not to directly indicate that ‘this is a cut’ in comparison to last year’s operation. If you are personally pressed by the media in an interview, we all agreed to use the terminology of ‘service level adjustment’ due to fiscal constraints as a means of describing what actions we are taking.” [US Park Service, 2/20/2004 ; Washington Post, 3/16/2004; Fresno Bee, 3/18/2004; Arizona Daily Star, 3/20/2004; National Geographic, 4/19/2004]
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