The early November storm that pretty much shut down Mount Rainier National Park to vehicle traffic likely will test Congress's support of the national park system.
Why? Because without a supplemental appropriation to offset the $18 million the Park Service borrowed from elsewhere within its current budget, some projects elsewhere in the park system might have to be put off.
That is a simplified explanation of how things stand. But in the world of federal funding, nothing is always quite as it appears.
As it's been explained to me, the $18 million in emergency funding for Rainier is coming either from the Emergency Roads Highway Program through the Federal Highways Administration, or through the Park Service's annual federal highway funding allocation, or from both.
Now, it is possible that somewhere in the park system some projects might get delayed or halted for some reason, and so monies might be found internally to help offset that $18 million that was committed to Rainier. But if that doesn't happen, and no supplemental appropriation is made, $18 million in projects will have to be put off.
Or perhaps not.
You see, as things in Washington stand today, the Park Service doesn't know if Congress, which has been running the government under a continuing budget resolution passed early last fall, will pass a new continuing budget resolution for the rest of the fiscal year.
There could be a new resolution coming later this spring, one that could contain more funding than currently appropriated for the Park Service. Or not.
And then, of course, there's the problem of what budget numbers Congress decides to work with. In Fiscal 2007, the current budget year, President Bush proposed an $85 million cut in Park Service construction funds. But under the current state of things in Washington, agencies are operating on Fiscal 2006 funding levels, which for the Park Service are $85 million higher than the president's proposal.
"So, does that mean we get to keep the $85 million?" wonders David Barna, the Park Service's communications chief. "We are waiting to see if this issue is addressed in the new continuing resolution. Congress is aware of this unallocated chunk of money. We shall see.
"Keep in mind that the continuing resolution started October 1 before we knew the outcome of the (November) election. So we are waiting for the new Congress to get completely organized," he adds. "We do not even know if the administration will go forward with a supplemental funding bill."