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Disappointing news from the National Park Service

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  • Bob Huddleston
    NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 10, #13; 2 April 2004) by Bruce Craig (editor) National Coalition for History (NCH) Website
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2004
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      NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 10, #13; 2 April 2004) by Bruce Craig (editor)
      <rbcraig@...> National Coalition for History (NCH) Website

      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
      visitor services."

      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.

      Take care,


      Judy and Bob Huddleston
      10643 Sperry Street
      Northglenn, CO 80234-3612
      303.451.6376 Huddleston.r@...
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