Disappointing news from the National Park Service
- NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 10, #13; 2 April 2004) by Bruce Craig (editor)
<rbcraig@...> National Coalition for History (NCH) Website
2. APPROPRIATIONS HEARINGS: FOCUS ON THE PARKS:
In contrast to the NEH hearing, last week's hearing on the budget request
for the National Park Service was not nearly so cordial.
In recent months, the leadership of the National Park Service (NPS) ¬ the
federal bureau charged with the stewardship of some of the nation's most
important natural and historic sites ¬ has come under increasing criticism
and scrutiny. The central target has been the Director of the NPS, Fran P.
In a recent report, the National Parks Conservation Association, a national
park citizen watch-dog group, documented that "severe"
staffing shortages are "crippling" the parks and that Mainella is doing
little to address the problem. Another recent survey of some 1,361 NPS
employees indicates that employee morale is at an "all-time low" and, in
addition, two-thirds of those surveyed worried that politics is
driving decision making in the service. Denny Huffman, a former
superintendent of Dinosaur National Monument and spokesman for the Coalition
of Concerned National Park Service Retirees, states that under Mainella's
watch as director, a "culture of fear" has developed in the NPS.
It was under this cloud that on 25 March 2004, Director Mainella appeared to
defend the administration's proposal for a modest 4.8% increase ($76.5
million) for the parks before the House subcommittee on appropriations which
oversees the NPS budget. In her opening statement, the director declared
that under her watch the parks have "more funds per employee, per acre, and
per visitor than at any time in its history." She predicted that, contrary
to recent reports by watchdog groups, this summer, "the parks will be open,
their natural resources will be protected, and they will provide outstanding
Mainella faced sharp questioning about some of her recent actions by members
of the committee on both sides of the aisle. Her decision to allocate
construction funds for a new $100 million visitor center at Valley Forge
National Historical Park without obtaining Congressional approval drew
particular criticism. Mainella responded by stating that she would review
the construction projects.
Much of the hearing focused on the NPS's travel expenses and the allegation
that Mainella needed to put a stop to "reckless travel spending." In fact,
last year, of the $2.2 billion enacted budget, the NPS spent a relatively
small part ¬ some $44 million on travel (most of it on training and other
official park planning and operations business), with only a portion
($300,000 in FY 2003) earmarked for travel to foreign countries, most of
which was for the support of the NPS's international assistance program.
In her response to criticism Mainella told the committee that she was
canceling all foreign travel for employees (one proximate result of this
decision is that no National Park Service employees will be able to
officially attend the annual meeting of the National Council for Public
History that is taking place in Victoria, British Columbia, this
week) and that in addition, she was ordering an across-the-board cut in
domestic travel. Nevertheless, because of the committee's distrust of
Maniella's ability to deploy resources, it was announced that in the House
approved FY 2005 NPS budget, there will be a provision banning foreign
travel without the committee's explicit approval.
In a related development, last week Representatives Mark Souder (R-IN) and
Brian Baird (D-WA) announced the formation of a bi-partisan 32-member
National Parks Caucus that will seek to "ensure that the legacy inherited by
our generation is adequately preserved for the next." One of the concerns of
the members of the new caucus is the leadership provided by Mainella.
Even if President Bush is re-elected, whether or not Mainella will continue
as the NPS director, is a matter of considerable speculation. Given the bad
publicity the director has been generating for the Bush administration
lately, and given the mistrust of her actions by the Republican controlled
Congressional appropriations committee, some park-watchers consider that her
continued presence at the helm of the NPS is becoming a liability in the
president's re-election effort.
Judy and Bob Huddleston
10643 Sperry Street
Northglenn, CO 80234-3612