Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Secret Plans to Gut the National Park Service

(X-listed at Dkos).

Here is an issue that is vital to the public interest, has wide public support and understanding, and yet little play in the Democratic Party:

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has a press release detailing the latest in budget "reforms" for our National Parks. A lot of managment-talk is used, but it boils down to cutting, gutting and probably ruining some of our national treasures. While recent measures to include faith-based messagesin our parks and park commercialization may seem bad enough, cutting the budget is by far the most serious concern we should have. Indeed, the overall plan seems to be to choke the parks, then, in a few years, make the problem so big that commercialization and privatization is inevitable.(keep reading...)
According the the Bush administration, spending for the NPS is up. Of course, according the Bush Administration, Iraq is doing well too. Given their proclivity for misrepresenting the truth, it behooves us to examine more closely the actual record. To that effect, The National Park Conservation Association provides some explanation:

[T]hrough creative accounting and forecasting, some in the administration seek to take credit for providing $4.9 billion toward the maintenance backlog by fiscal year 2006. Yet only $662 million is new funding--the rest includes funding raised by national park visitors' entrance fees or money already coming to the parks for day-to-day repairs over the past four years.

The national parks' deferred maintenance backlog, now estimated at $4.1 billion to $6.8 billion, is more than double the Park Service's entire annual operating budget. It includes projects such as visitor center repairs, invasive species removal, electrical and fire-suppression system upgrades, road and bridge rehabilitation, and historic building restoration.(Source:

A fellow Kossack, who happens to work for the NPS, chimed in:
And I can tell you that the GAO report is spot on. The parks are being slowly starved.

If your income were raised about 2%-3% each year, while your "fixed costs" such as health insurance, rent, food, etc are going up by about 5%-10% per year, the results are predictable. First you compensate by cutting out luxuries, but that only goes so far. After a few years, you are forced to start taking short cuts. You decide to quit fixing things that are broken, hoping that your situation will improve later. After a few more years, you start doing increasingly desperate things. Eventually you get to a point where you seriously contemplate selling yourself.

That's what is happening folks. We're starving, and they get to report that "the NPS has never had so much money." It's an appalling insult.

Of course, there are scoundrels aplenty looking to tap into the vast visitor base of the NPS, and there are just as many mining corporations looking to get free or extra-cheap mineral rights (just look at some of Pombo's legislation). Given the overwhelming public support for the NPS, why aren't the Dems making a bigger issue of this? As David Sirota recently pointed out, even red-state publications like "Field and Stream" are taking offense at the Bush Administration. And, as Asdf notes: "The bureaucracy has been so thoroughly infiltrated by browns in key political apointee positions that, despite their their power base having been eroded - somewhat - the juggernaut forges on. And the judiciary, which has been instrumental in overruling executive discretion in environmental disputes, continues to be infiltrated."

In a word, the Commons, our public lands are under attack from multiple angles. It is important that we act soon, and that the Democratic party gets the message too.

Are you fired up yet? If not, read PEER's press release:

For Immediate Release: April 17, 2006

SECRET PLAN TO CUT NATIONAL PARK FUNDING BY 30% IN 5 YEARS -- Parks "Glide Path" to Impoverishment Breaks Bush Campaign Pledge

Washington, DC -- The Bush administration has directed the National Park Service to substantially decrease its reliance on tax-supported funding, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In a turnabout from the last two presidential campaigns when candidate Bush promised greater funding of parks, new "talking points" distributed last week to all park superintendents urge them to begin "honest and forthright" discussions with the public about smaller budgets, reduced visitor services and increased fees.

Using a new approach called Core Operations Analysis, each park is asked to develop budgets based on a 20 to 30% reduction in appropriation support. In this exercise, park superintendents decide which visitor services or other functions can be jettisoned ("staffing and funding alternatives based on realistic funding projections," in the words of the Park Service). Whatever shortfalls in support for essential operations that remain must be made up for with fee hikes, cost shifting or increased reliance on volunteers.

Once the Core Operation Analysis is finalized, each park is then put on a "glide path" to implement the agreed upon reductions during the next five years.

In the talking points memo issued on April 11, 2006, park public affairs and budgetary staff provide coaching as to how individual parks should spin shrinking budgets and reduced visitor services, including:

* "The National Park Service, like most agencies, is tightening its belt as our nation rebuilds from Katrina, continues the war on terrorism and strives to reduce the deficit" and ...

"Our satisfaction rating is over 96 percent nationally, and has remained high for several years. That's a clear indicator that budgets have not reduced visitor enjoyment."

By contrast, prior to the 2004 election, park officials were ordered to avoid mention of cutbacks and instead use the euphemism "service level adjustments." In talking points distributed on April 7, 2004, park managers were instructed to counter charges of lower budgets by declaring "NPS has fared well under President Bush."

"Rather than being honest about planned budget cuts, the Bush administration once again makes stealth policy decisions cloaked by management reform mumbo jumbo," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "If our national parks are going to be reduced to performing only the bare minimum of `core operations' the public ought to be given some say as to what is considered essential."

So, Bush can be down in the polls, congressmen and lobbyist can be jailed, but the program to privatize and corporatize every inch of the American commons continues. As you can see, NPS employees are already being asked to spout the Republican talking points about the budget. What next? Our National Parks will resemble theme parks, not refuges of nature. For example, here is a picture I took at Disneyland last year:

So I'll skip my usual wordy entry, and get straight to the point: If you think this important, take action with the two groups below. Hey, write the Democratic Party too! This is a no-brainer issue. The National Park Service has huge public support. This is why even Bush has to talk all nice about it in the State of the Union and why Dems should be pointing to the Republican rape of this venerable institution every chance they get.

Take care...



Some folks asked for more numbers. Here is the non-partisan General Accounting Office discussion of the NPS budget:

All park units we visited received project-related allocations, but most of the
park units experienced declines in inflation-adjusted terms in their
allocations for daily operations. Each of the 12 park units reported their
daily operations allocations were not sufficient to address increases in
operating costs, such as salaries, and new Park Service requirements. In
response, officials reported that they either eliminated or reduced some
services or relied on other authorized sources to pay operating expenses that
have historically been paid with allocations for daily operations. Also,
implementing important Park Service policies--without additional
allocations--has placed additional demands on the park units and reduced
their flexibility. For example, the Park Service has directed its park units to
spend most of their visitor fees on deferred maintenance projects. While the
Park Service may use visitor fees to pay salaries for permanent staff who
administer projects funded with these fees, it has a policy prohibiting such
use. To alleviate the pressure on daily operations allocations, we believe it
would be appropriate to use visitor fees to pay the salaries of employees
working on visitor fee funded projects. Interior believes that, while
employment levels at individual park units may have fluctuated for many
reasons, employment servicewide was stable, including both seasonal and
permanent employees.
source: GAO report