Washington Monument Syndrome

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The Washington Monument syndrome, also known as the Mount Rushmore Syndrome,[1] or the firemen first principle,[2][3] is a term used to describe the phenomenon of government agencies in the United States cutting the most visible or appreciated service provided by the government when faced with budget cuts. It has been used in reference to cuts in popular services such as national parks and libraries[1] or to valued public employees such as teachers and firefighters.[2] This is done to put pressure on the public and lawmakers to rescind budget cuts. The term can also refer to claims by lawmakers that a proposed budget cut would hinder "essential" government services (firefighters, police, education, etc).[4]

Although intended to highlight the government's value to voters, it can also be aimed at lawmakers themselves. Faced with budget cuts in the 1970s, Amtrak announced plans to cease train routes in the home districts of several members of Congress.[2]

The term was first used after George Hartzog, the seventh director of the National Park Service, closed popular national parks such as the Washington Monument and Grand Canyon National Park for two days a week in 1969. In response to complaints, Congress eventually restored the funding and Hartzog resigned.[5]

2013 government shutdown[edit]

The 2013 government shutdown has seen an extension of Washington Monument Syndrome to the fencing-off of monuments that are open all year and normally do not require staffing, for instance the National World War II Memorial. Further extensions of this political tactic include the forced shutdown of private businesses operating as parks and campgrounds on federal lands without any federal funding, in violation of the terms of their leases and concessions.[6] The closure prompted daily civil-disobedience actions at the World War II Memorial by the non-profit organization, Honor Flight Network, which is continuing its normal daily practice of bringing old and dying veterans to visit the war memorial. The Park Service blocked viewing but allowed the veterans' visits as a form of First Amendment expression.

Ridicule of the tactic has entered into popular culture. When Mount Rushmore overlooks (small, unstaffed road turnoffs) were closed by the Park Service, digital protests and jokes included photoshopped helicopters holding a sheet over the exhibit. Enough people were fooled by these jokes that the website Snopes added an entry to debunk them as merely photoshopped photos. [7]