Oversight Announces Hearing on McPherson Square Campsite

January 17, 2012

WASHINGTON- The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from District of Columbia officials and the National Park Service next Tuesday during a subcommittee hearing titled “McPherson Square: Who Made the Decision to Allow Indefinite Camping in the Park?”

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Department of Health Director Dr. Mohammed Akhter will testify on the impact of the ongoing encampment on public health and public safety inside and outside the park.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis will testify. Interior Assistant Secretary Rachel Jacobson was invited to testify alongside Jarvis, but has not yet confirmed.

Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-SC., wrote to witnesses that “this hearing will focus on the decision-making process that has allowed continued camping in McPherson Square for more than three months despite the apparent illegality of it.”

“As you are aware, Section 7.96 of Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations prohibits camping in parks unless it occurs in designated camping areas or is specifically allowed by the National Park Service,” Gowdy noted. “A flyer posted and distributed in McPherson Square by the NPS emphasized that ‘camping is not permitted’ in the park.

Unlike other camps operating throughout the nation during fall of 2011, the National Park Service asserts the federal government has “discretion” over existence of the camp in McPherson Square.

Last week, District Mayor Vincent Gray wrote to the National Park Service to remove the McPherson Square campsite, “at a minimum,” to allow District officials to clean up the park and remove health hazards. His December 16th letter to the National Park Service officials seeking assistance remains unanswered.

The Interior Department has until January 24th to respond to the Oversight Committee’s request for information related to the McPherson Square camping decision and its coordination with local officials.

The Mayor’s request and the Oversight Committee hearing take place as the health situation at McPherson Square continues to deteriorate. Last week, with rain falling and temperatures in the mid-40s, an infant was abandoned in a tent, according to authorities, wearing nothing but a “onesie.” City health officials cited “very unsanitary conditions” at the camp and noted that rodent infestation has “exploded.”

City officials have made it clear they support the first amendment rights of the individuals in the camp. “I’m very supportive of their rights and ability to demonstrate but I have concerns about their personal safety,” said Dr. Akhter to the Washington Post. Akhter, who compared the camps to refugee camps he had seen in the Middle East and Africa, continued, “When the weather goes bad suddenly, we’re watching a tragedy unfold in the middle of Washington, D.C. ”

The hearing will take place on Tuesday, January 24th at 9:30 a.m. in Room 2154 of Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing will be streamed online at http://oversight.house.gov.

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