The other day Bruce went on in a comment to my "Let's Sell the Parks" post about how the Park Service is wasting its budget on "creature comforts," such as plush offices, "fancy vehicles" and what not.
And then J Longstreet, an NPS superintendent who prefers anonymity, countered by spelling out just how frugal and run down things really are in most parks.
Well, there is at least one NPS unit that is flush, if not overflowing, with money. That would be the First Ladies National Historic Site in Ohio.
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, this somewhat obscure outpost spends more than $100,000 a year on such things as "cultural collections" in the forms of dresses, lamps and other furnishings First Ladies introduced to the White House. And, it spends money somewhat freely, as evidenced by the $77,500 it paid one historian as a consultant from July 2004 to July 2005.
And while other park units are cutting back in personnel and programs, this site actually more than doubled its personnel costs, from $159,646 in FY02 to $337,288 in FY04. At the same time, this historic site has seen its overall budget climb from $600,000 to $800,000 over that period.
How can this be in these NPS days of dwindling funds? Flip the page and I'll tell you.
The First Ladies National Historic Site, you see, is a pet project of the wife of Congressman Ralph Regula, a Republican from Ohio who -- are you ready? -- just happens to sit on the House Appropriations Committee.
Yep, Ralph's spouse Mary heads the First Ladies Library Association that runs this historic site. In fact, Ralph carried the legislation that created this site back in 2000.
Conflict of interest? Hmmm. If you agree with that, you probably also would agree that nepotism is involved when you learn that, according to PEER, two of the Regulas' daughters work at the site: Martha is a librarian while Jackie has performed office work on a part-time basis.
Now, one of the odd things about this site -- if the above isn't odd enough -- is that while this site has been open since 2002, when you visit its web site you'll see that it hasn't reported any visitation totals for any of the years it has been in business.
PEER, though, obtained visitation records through a Freedom of Information request and learned that the annual visitation ranges from 5,321 in Fiscal 2002 to 9,351 in Fiscal 2004. Now while it's good to see that visitation is going up, when you do the math you realize that each one of those visitors in 2004 cost taxpayers nearly $1,000. If you don't have a problem with that, I've got a hammer I'd like to sell you.
Now, Mrs. Regula might be a delightful woman with the best intentions, but if you peruse some of the records and memos PEER has obtained, a different picture is painted.
Seems to me that this is one NPS unit that is aboard the gravy train and should be scrutinized, shall we say, just a little more closely by those in Washington.