Funding the Parks, Take II
The problem with how the National Park Service is funded is that it often forces park managers to choose between programs and staffing. That was evident in yesterday's post on the agency's funding woes.
But, as Art pointed out in his comment to that post, and from what I've been told by other sources, I merely scratched the surface in pointing out the funding problems the agency is burdened with.
Part of the problem in exposing these inadequacies is that the NPS hierarchy and Interior Department officials have intimidated many park managers to the point where they won't speak out against this administration's management style.
For instance, I've been told that in some of the larger parks, staff vacancy rates are astounding. At Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia i've been told there are upwards of 40 authorized positions that are vacant because the superintendent does not have money to meet annual operating costs.
As I noted earlier, park superintendents have been forced to resort to leave a position or two or more vacant to free up some money to meet operating obligations.
Now, back in January I pointed out that the folks in Grand Teton National Park have budget woes that are forcing the superintendent to look for more volunteers to fill roles that rangers traditionally have handled. In that post I noted that the park is performing a core operations review to see where it might be able to save some money. The same is being done in Denali, and no doubt other parks.
The problem with these reviews, I've been told, is that the impetus is to examine what a park is doing that contributes to the accomplishment of its fundamental purposes and what can be eliminated so that it can do more or the same for less. Along those lines, apparently one of the assumptions of this analysis is that fully one-third of the employees in a given park would be considered excess if the analysis were properly conducted.
Sure it costs money to operate the national park system. That's a given. But it's a system, a belief in preserving our nation's natural and cultural heritage, that's priceless. It's not something we should toss aside through neglect or outsource with hopes that the low bidder for the contract can do a quality job.
Back in December I wrote a post about how it appears as if the Bush administration is intentionally starving the parks, in large part to outsource many of its operations. When the Interior Department previously raised the issue of outsourcing park jobs, that drew a huge outcry. A good primer on the threat of privatizing our national parks, in addition to the Christian Science Monitor story I just linked to and additional links you can find in that December post, can be found at the National Parks Conservation Association website.
Now, perhaps the department is trying to accomplish the same goal, more quietly, through these core operations reviews. It's something to think about.