Sounds like the president's proposed Fiscal '08 budget for the National Park Service is going to get some awfully close congressional scrutiny, at least in the House of Representatives.
Representative Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona who chairs the House parks subcommittee, made that clear today. During a hearing into the budget proposal he expressed some serious concerns about how the president would fund the Park Service.
"...in recent years, the National Park Service has suffered from budget neglect," Representative Grijalva told Mary. "Funding has not even kept pace with increases in fixed costs such as heating bills and cost-of-living adjustments. Reports from the Government Accountability Office have shown that the much-discussed maintenance backlog is not diminishing.
"In fact, this year's budget request is for less money than was requested for the National Park Service five years ago," he added. "This level of investment is hardly the way to ensure that on its 100th birthday in 2006 our national park system will reflect us at our best rather than our worst."
Of course, not being in Washington, it's hard to know exactly how Mary responded to the congressman. However, in her prepared comments she pointed out that "the budget request represents the largest budget request ever for park operations and programs that benefit the national park system."
But Representative Grijalva doesn't seem too willing to rally around that comment.
"While any increase is a positive step, it must be noted that much of this increase appears to come at the expense of other important park programs," he said.
As for the much-touted "National Park Centennial Initiative," the program by which $3 billion would be invested in the park system over the next decade, with a third of that money theoretically coming from the private sector, the congressman expressed some concerns as to how it will be structured, particularly in light of the agency's substantial maintenance backlog, which has been pegged at anywhere from $4.5 billion to $9 billion.
"What such a proposal might mean on the ground must be explored. For example, the Park Service will need to raise nearly $60 million, and bank on a mandatory match from Congress, just to restore the park construction budget to last year's levels," he pointed out. "This new reliance on fund-raising is troubling -- I believe that agencies and employees of the federal government should provide services to the American public, not hit them up for donations to fund park facilities."
Yep, sounds like some interesting times ahead for the Park Service's budget proposal.