WASHINGTON — The National Park Service has failed to protect some of America's most prominent national monuments and memorials from terrorist attacks, according to a government report.
The Interior Department's inspector general, Earl Devaney, said Friday the park service has delayed, postponed or ignored steps to protect national "icons," as funding for enhanced security competes with other projects.
"At a time when our country's susceptibility to attack is at the forefront of concern, every reasonable course of preventative action must be taken," the inspector general said. "After conducting this assessment, we believe that, as of now, this is not the case.
"It is imperative that icon park protection take precedence over all other park concerns."
Sites considered icons include the Washington Monument and others along the National Mall; the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia; the Boston Navy Yard; the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York; and a park that houses a footing of the Golden Gate Bridge. The report did not include a list.
Interior Department spokesman John Wright said that Secretary Gale Norton supported the inspector general's findings.
"She agrees that the department has not done enough to bolster our security efforts in the aftermath of Sept. 11," Wright said. "We're not where we need to be but we're not where we've been. We are learning, we are changing and we are improving our security efforts."
The inspector general did not identify which parks and monuments were checked, nor which facilities had security flaws.
But the report did note some of the security shortcomings that were uncovered.
For example, some prominent parks had no law enforcement officers on duty. Others left their gates open and unstaffed. Security cameras were installed far away from monuments. Teams of inspectors walked into a restricted area at one park without being stopped by employees; others took pictures of security-sensitive areas without anyone challenging them.
The report found that officials at some parks challenged the need to improve security. "I'm not concerned about al-Qaida," one official said, according to the report. "I am more concerned about individuals. Al-Qaida has never been around here before."
When one inspector saw a park police officer leave his post to buy lunch, leaving the area unattended, the officer's supervisor responded: "Nothing I can do about it. The guy has to eat."
Among the inspector general's recommendations:
—The most significant national monuments and memorials should have trained security managers on site.
—Security assessments of these facilities should take place every three years. Random testing of security procedures should also take place.
—The park service should look at hiring private security guards, some of them armed, to help park rangers and police officers.
—All park employees at the most significant facilities should be trained in security procedures such as identifying suspicious people and packages, and identifying anyone who is conducting surveillance.