There's certainly a lot of hoopla these days over the president's FY08 budget proposal for the National Park Service, isn't there? I mean papers from coast-to-coast are heralding it, national park superintendents are applauding it, and, heck, even I've had some good things to say.
But we need to keep things in perspective, and as time passes details of this paper tiger are starting to stink.
As I've previously noted, construction funding for the agency would take a significant, $100 million+ hit under the president's proposal. Via that hit the administration would move much of the money to the park operations budget, which enables them to tout the operations budget boost as the "largest increase ever" for the agency.
So while there might be more "flat hats" in the field this summer, more construction needs will be put off. Any guesses on how that will impact the park system down the road?
And let's not forget about how the budget calls for a significant increase in the reliance on volunteers -- less-skilled, less-knowledgeable, "less-expensive" volunteers who will take more and more positions previously held by full-time "flat hats." To better understand this dilemma, go back to a post I made last June to outline the looming presence volunteers were having in the parks.
Now, here's the most remarkable aspect of the prez's budget, and it's truly a stroke of marketing genius for this administration: the $3 billion centennial challenge that doesn't come close to his 7-year-old pledge to wipe out the Park Service's maintenance backlog.
Remember back during the 2000 presidential campaign when George promised he would, in his first term, wipe out the Park Service's maintenance backlog? At the time, that backlog was calculated by the General Accounting Office, to be drifting around $4.9 billion.
"The federal government has clear responsibility for the Everglades, as in each of the nearly 400 other national parks. In recent years, that obligation has sometimes been neglected. Many parks have lacked the resources the need for their basic care and maintenance. My administration will restore and renew America's national parks," George said during a photo op in Everglades National Park on June 4, 2001.
Heck, during his first campaign George said he'd spend an extra $1 billion a year for five years to wipe out the backlog. Now, the administration keeps claiming that it's done serious damage to the backlog, and that it's checked off on more than 6,000 projects, but others disagree. Here's a snippet from an Associated Press story from 2006:
By next year, the Bush administration will have spent $5.6 billion on park maintenance and will have completed more than 6,000 construction projects. ... About $700 million of that spending is new money, Park Service budget figures show. That is far short of Bush's $1 billion-a-year goal.
And now George is proposing a $3 billion effort to buff and polish the national park system by 2016, $3 billion of which one-third would have to come from the private sector and one-third from future administrations and one-third from a yet-to-be-authorized federal match.
So let's recap things: Not only did George fail to erase the Park Service's backlog as he promised he would, but now he's actually offering less of a deal -- one that would take twice as long to accomplish, provide less money for the parks than what he promised back in 2000, and which must gain Congress's approval as well as private sector support.
And folks are going gaa-gaa over it?
Here's how Christopher Brauchli so succinctly summed up this travesty over at his blog, Spot-On:
By this newest proposal Mr. Bush has shown himself to be all things to all people - a fiscal conservative by not providing the promised $5 billion in 5 years and a friend of the parks by promising $2 billion within 14 years after the unfulfilled $5 billion promise was made.
Let's hope the Congress can do better, but it won't be easy, as the president's budget also would pilfer the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and there are congressional constituencies for those agencies that won't abide by George's plans, so money definitely will be tight.