OAH Issues Statement to the Department of the Interior on Government Shutdowns

June 5, 2019

Approved by the OAH Executive Board on April 4, 2019

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) affirms the value of the work of historians in the federal government who were furloughed for over a month due to the partial government shutdown in 2018-2019. These historians’ work is essential to preserving, understanding, and interpreting the vast array of documents, artifacts, buildings, structures, and natural resources that the federal government owns and stewards.

During the extended government shutdown, the federal government allowed national parks to remain open to the public despite the absence of National Park Service staff. This policy put at risk historic buildings, artifacts, archeological sites, and landscapes, leaving these resources vulnerable to damage and theft. News organizations reported egregious acts of vandalism in several parks, but we still do not know how widespread such actions were. In addition, some federally funded sites fulfilled their mission using private funds.

The Organization of American Historians calls upon the Department of the Interior to evaluate and publish the extent of damage to historic resources in the national parks. Because these resources represent irreplaceable primary sources for the historical profession and valuable tools for history educator, the Organization also urges the federal government to safeguard the historic resources in the national parks during future government shutdowns. We recommend that either sites remain open and staff is paid, or more appropriately, that sites are closed to everyone during a shutdown and secured to the extent possible.