How Many Federal Agencies Does It Take To Say No To Nats Parking? Nine
In a little more than two weeks, when the Washington Nationals open their new stadium, many thousands of fans will be told there's no place nearby to park their cars. But two blocks from the ballpark, a 1,060-spot garage -- enormous enough to dramatically relieve the parking crunch around Nationals Park -- will sit empty, thanks to the federal government's rejection of the Nats' request to use the facility.
Just how the U.S. Department of Transportation got to no reveals a great deal about Washington, bureaucracy and the enduring power of the security hysteria that has infected our society.
Here's a list of the federal agencies that got involved in the decision to reject the Nationals' proposal, which was so modest that it asked the government to allow parking only by select season ticket holders who were federal employees with federal security clearances:
The Department of Transportation, including its offices of Security, General Counsel, Financial Management, Transit Benefits and Inspector General. The Federal Protective Service. The Department of Justice. The General Services Administration. The Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
And, quite possibly -- we can't know this for certain because key passages in a 10-page federal report reviewing the parking decision have been deleted to protect national security -- unnamed intelligence agencies.
Whew. So how did a simple request to use empty parking spaces at night, after Transportation workers have gone home, turn into -- excuse the expression -- a federal case? A report by Transportation's inspector general makes it clear that the feds were desperate to find a way to reject the Nationals' proposal.
The government threw everything at its disposal into crafting a massively complex no. Adding fans' cars to the mix at the garage "would almost certainly adversely affect normal DOT day-to-day operations," the report says. Federal lawyers raised alarms about whether the government would be liable if a season ticket holder committed a crime in the garage, or if excluded fans sued, alleging preferential treatment for season ticket holders.
From the start, Transportation officials saw fan parking as a national security issue. They hauled out a Department of Homeland Security (another agency heard from!) "framework" and started dreaming up "threats, vulnerabilities and consequences" that could arise from a fan parking in the garage. They even looked into the possible impact of an explosive blast inside the garage, although results of that probe are covered by a label that says "REDACTED."
Never mind that the public is routinely welcome to park in federal buildings throughout Washington. Never mind that a stadium holding 40,000 fans is probably a more attractive target for a bomber than the garage of a building containing people who work on road and transit projects. Never mind that the Nats' proposal would have applied the same level of security to fans as to the folks who work in the building.
"Limiting baseball-related parking to 'season ticket holders who have valid Federal government identification cards' would not necessarily guarantee adequate security," the Transportation analysis concludes.
Which is, of course, true. Life offers no guarantees. The feds note that "even if the probability of an occurrence was low from the increased threat the [parking] plan introduced, the consequences to the safety and security of DOT personnel and resources and consequently the performance of DOT's missions remained high."
The logic here is beautiful: Sure, the feds say, the chances that fan parking would lead to an attack are slim, but letting fans in could destroy the American transportation system as we know it. By this reasoning, all federal employees should work at home to protect precious buildings from possible attack.
The report considers the possibilities of car bombs and other terrorist attacks and even notes that the area around the building has "a high crime index." The theory appears to be that muggers might buy season tickets and get government jobs to gain access to the garage, where they might then hold up office workers for cash or Ryan Zimmerman autographs.
How much did the feds want to reject this plan? The analysis questions whether department managers might be subject to ethics charges if they limited parking to fans who are federal employees; this might be seen as federal workers "using their public office for private gain." The analysts even twisted the Nats' offer to reimburse the government for all security costs of using the garage into a possible violation of federal law governing who may receive outside funds. "The responsible official may be removed from office," the report breathlessly concludes.
The only risk the new ballpark will pose to federal workers will come from the frustration of fans who will walk by the empty garage on their way to a game, aghast at what a grandiose hysteric their government has become.
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