Free Veterans from Fees Act
STATEMENT OF DAVID VELA, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS, EXERCISING THE AUTHORITY OF THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, REGARDING H.R. 1702, TO WAIVE THE APPLICATION FEE FOR ANY SPECIAL USE PERMIT FOR VETERANS DEMONSTRATIONS AND SPECIAL EVENTS AT WAR MEMORIALS ON FEDERAL LAND, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
December 4, 2019
Chairwoman Haaland, Ranking Member Young, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 1702, to waive the application fee for any special use permit for veterans demonstrations and special events at war memorials on Federal land.
The Department welcomes opportunities to commemorate and honor the brave men and women in uniform and their families who sacrifice so much in service to our country, and we are proud to host veterans, veterans groups, and their families for commemorations and events recognizing that service and sacrifice. As it appears that the purpose of H.R. 1702 is to codify the National Park Service’s practice of not requiring application fees for special use permits for veterans demonstrations and special events at memorials, the Department supports the goal of the bill. In addition, we would like to work with the sponsor and the Committee to clarify the legislation.
Normally, applications for special park use permits must be accompanied by a payment of a fee to offset the initial costs of processing the application. However, the National Park Service does not charge application fees and associated costs for special use permits for demonstrations, including veterans demonstrations, which allow the free exercise of First Amendment activities. In addition, by longstanding practice, the National Park Service generally waives application fees for special use permits for special events commemorating veterans at war memorials. Park superintendents, who administer the permits, have the authority to waive a special use permit application fee if the proposed use will promote the mission of the National Park Service; promote public health, safety, or welfare; or if charging and collecting the fees is not cost effective. Once a permit is issued, the National Park Service may charge additional fees or recover costs associated with the permitted activity.
H.R. 1702, which addresses only application fees, would require a waiver of the application fee for any special use permit solely for a veterans demonstration or special event at war memorials on Federal land. The bill’s definitions of “demonstration” and “special event” reference section 7.96 of title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. That section of the code applies only to national parks in the National Capital Region (now the National Capital Area of Interior Region 1) and therefore it appears that the bill is intended to cover only war memorials in the Nation’s Capital. However, the term “Federal land” would include all war memorials administered by the National Park Service, as well as war memorials administered by the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and every other Federal agency that administers a war-related memorial anywhere. The bill also defines “war memorial” very broadly, taking in more types of memorials than just those that commemorate veterans.
If the bill is intended to apply to only the memorials in the Nation’s Capital that commemorate veterans, we would recommend that the bill be amended to clarify its scope. However, if the bill is intended to cover memorials administered by other Federal agencies in addition to the Department of the Interior, we would ask that the Committee seek comment from those agencies before taking any action on this legislation. We would be happy to work with the Committee and bill sponsor to develop the appropriate amendments.
Chair Haaland, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.