So much for congressional white knights, at least on the House Interior and Environmental Appropriations Subcommittee.
After telling National Park Service Director Fran Mainella last month that they would have to "save you guys again" in terms of the agency's budget, the subcommittee did little "saving" today.
I had high hopes after listening to committee members tell Director Mainella that the president's proposed FY2007 NPS budget was "a disappointment" and that the agency "seems to be losing ground in this budget."
Well, it seems like those comments were little more than soundbites intended to appease those who were listening, as the NPS budget the subcommittee approved today isn't much of an improvement over the president's proposal.
Oh, the subcommittee did do the president $19 million better, passing out a $2.2 billion NPS budget. But this budget proposal is still $100 million shy of the NPS's current allocation, which the Government Accountability Office, after reviewing operations at 12 of the country's most recognizable parks, indicated was inadequate.
And the GAO report was conducted at the behest of this subcommittee.
Now, the subcommittee did approve a $41 million increase for NPS base operations, which is almost double what President Bush recommended. But still, when you're dealing with an agency that annually operates $600 million in the hole and which has a $5 BILLION maintenance backlog, the extra coinage the House subcommittee tossed into the hat isn't to be praised.
Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., said today that the Park Service's budget, as it passed out of his subcommittee, will lead to even more cuts in staff and maintenance for the agency.
Now, there are others in Congress who want to see the Park Service get more money. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., and Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., have gone on record as saying the agency's base operations budget should be increased by $150 million for the coming fiscal year.
That's a good start -- if they can get their peers to agree -- but unless Congress gets serious about helping our national park system get out of the financial rut it's in, the system will slowly wither on the proverbial vine.
Which makes me wonder, where is the public outrage?
Newspaper editorials are nice -- and there have been quite a few slamming this administration's caretaking of our national park system -- but it's hard to say if any of the 270 million folks who visited a national park last year are truly concerned. And until they pressure their congressional representatives, the NPS and the 390 park units it oversees will continue to struggle and decline in stature.