Interior: Toppling Off Fiscal Cliff Won't Immediately Impact National Park Operations

While Interior Department officials publicly refuse to discuss how failure to avert the "fiscal cliff" might impact national park operations, internally they're telling National Park Service staff that nothing should change in the short term.

In an email distributed throughout the Interior Department's realm -- National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Reclamation, and Office of Surface Mining -- Deputy Interior Secretary David Hays urged calm despite the seeming lack of progress by Congress and the president to resolve the budgetary mess.

"Many of you have raised questions regarding the impact of a potential sequestration for the Department of the Interior and its bureaus and offices, and I would like to take a moment to clarify a few things," Mr. Hays said in an email distributed system-wide on Thursday. "First and foremost, it is important to keep in mind that the Administration remains focused on working with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids such cuts. Sequestration was never intended to be implemented, and there is no reason why both sides should not be able to come together and prevent this scenario.

"Nevertheless, with only a couple of weeks left before sequestration could occur, should a deal not be reached, it is important to clarify the potential implications. Let me start by explaining what sequestration is and what it is not. Sequestration is an across-the-board reduction in budgetary resources for all accounts within the Department of the Interior that have not been exempted by Congress. If it occurs, sequestration will reduce our budgetary resources for the remainder of the fiscal year (which runs through September 30, 2013). These cuts, while significant and harmful to our collective mission as an agency, would not necessarily require immediate reductions in spending. Under sequestration, we would still have funds available after January 2, but our overall funding for the remainder of the year would be reduced.

"...For these reasons, I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, should sequestration occur. This means that we will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on that date. Should we have to operate under reduced funding levels for an extended period of time, we may have to consider furloughs or other actions in the future."

Mr. Hays went on to say that top Interior officials will look at other options available to reduce costs before cutting staff. If furloughs do become inevitable, he wrote, as much advance notice to those employees would be given as possible.

"We would also immediately cancel any scheduled personnel actions should a deficit reduction agreement be reached that restores our agency funding," he added.