Washington Monument Syndrome
The Washington Monument syndrome, also known as the Mount Rushmore Syndrome, or the firemen first principle, 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 or to valued public employees such as teachers and firefighters. 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.).
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.
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.
2013 government shutdown
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. The closure prompted daily civil-disobedience actions at the World War II Memorial by the non-profit organization, Honor Flight Network, which was 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.
- Ferrell, David (30 April 2008). "Library Book Liberation Front: Don't Tax Library Books". LA Weekly. Retrieved 9 May 2008.
- Peters, Charles (March 1976). "The Firemen First Principle". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Fallows, James (18 February 2013). "The Nightmare of Sequestration Hits Home". The Atlantic. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Kennedy, Shirley Duglin (2009-04-01). "The Washington Monument Syndrome". Information Today. Retrieved 24 July 2013.[dead link]
- Hartzog, Jr., George B (1988). Battling for the National Parks. New York: Mt. Kisco. ISBN 9780918825704
- Siddons, Andrew (2013) "A Symbol of Liberty, Strength and Budget Fights," New York Times, March 1.
- Sully, Nicole (2015) '"Washington Monument Syndrome": The Monument as Political Hostage in the United States of America', in Paul Hogben and Judith O’Callaghan (eds) Architecture, Institutions and Change, Proceedings of the 32nd Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia & New Zealand, Sydney, July 2015, Sydney: SAHANZ, pp. 663–74.  ISBN 978-0-646-94298-8