Guest Column: Where's The Vision For Properly Funding The National Park System?

As a historian of the national parks, I followed with interest stories of how the government shutdown – thankfully concluded now – played out in the parks.

From World War II vets “storming” their D.C. memorial, to the private operator of Blue Ridge Parkway’s Pisgah Inn resisting closure in leaf season, to visitors complaining about canceled weddings and wrecked vacations, to state governments rescuing Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty, the parks garnered attention during the shutdown that they rarely get in regular times.

The boisterous public and political pressure for park access seems, at first glance, to validate the common perception (supported by poll data) that the national parks are one rare thing people across party lines agree on.

As lead author of a 2011 study “Imperiled Promise,” which documented problems created by longstanding underfunding of Park Service history programs, I hoped the closures were galvanizing support for public reinvestment in our parks as we approach their 100th birthday in 2016.

But the situation did not produce a clear consensus. Many of my colleagues rallied to NPS’s support, but fellow historian Larry Cebula pointed out that the closures also fed right-wing attacks on the Park Service. The National Review Online vilified rangers as “Park Service Paramilitaries.” In a tense House hearing titled As Difficult As Possible: The National Park Service’s Implementation of the Government Shutdown, Republican congressmen scolded NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis for his handling of the shutdown, while focusing on minor issues like tickets given to joggers running in the closed Valley Forge National Historical Park.

For me, the shutdown called to mind historian Bernard DeVoto’s 1953 Harper’s article, Let’s Close the National Parks.

In DeVoto’s era, the traveling public was “loving the parks to death” while parks funding remained anemic. The irreplaceable parks should be shuttered, DeVoto argued, until the federal government funded them adequately.

The mere specter of closed parks struck a chord. In short order, Eisenhower’s Republican administration crafted the 10-year, $1 billion Mission 66 program that upgraded park facilities in time for the Park Service’s 50th birthday in 1966.

But in 2013, the parks did close. And while people who love them and communities whose economies rely on them pleaded for them to be reopened, it remains to be seen whether closure will produce a groundswell of public support for increased funding.

To ensure that it does, we need to look carefully at who said what during the shutdown.

To my knowledge, Republican calls to reopen the parks were accompanied by no vision to address the parks’ severe (decades long) underfunding. Instead, those demands were wrapped in attacks on the Park Service itself – whose rangers were told that they should “be ashamed” for keeping the public out of the parks.

Meanwhile, commentators on the left noticed that the state leaders busily moving funds to open parks (such as Arizona’s Grand Canyon) were the same ones who initially stopped welfare payments in their states during the shutdown.

These observations remind us that many political leaders who cried the loudest for re-opening the parks are not reliable friends of the parks. They are not advocates of a robust notion of a “public good” that under-girds the park idea, nor protectors of parks’ resources, nor allies of visitors from all walks of life who clamor for access to them. They are demagogues who cynically used the parks’ popularity and patriotic symbolism for political gain while repeatedly kicking an agency that was already down.

This is no way for America to treat its Park Service on the eve of its centennial. It is the Republican Party – whose (Theodore) Rooseveltian fore-bearers created many of the early national parks – that should be ashamed. Meanwhile, those of us who love our parks must recognize that the greatest threat to them lies in the systematic demolition of our nation’s public sector. In coming days, we should watch vigilantly for those efforts to intensify, building on hyperbolic tales of “Park Service mismanagement” during the shutdown.

Park supporters should redouble our efforts to build a country in which reliable long-term investment in our parks is part of a broader recommitment to our nation’s public interest. A good starting point could be immediate action on a Mission 2016 national parks investment plan that can assure that our national parks always remain protected, staffed, maintained, enhanced – and open and accessible – for the benefit of all who look to them for economic survival, inspiration, education, recreation and renewal.

Anne Mitchell Whisnant is a historian with long experience writing about the National Park Service. Her essay appeared first in the News and Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Comments

So well said, Anne.

Let's keep up the pressure on our legislators. Just because the parks are open now doesn't mean that they'll stay open. They certainly are poorly funded.

Danny

Dittos's Danny, the best viewpoint on the partial government shutdown and how it affected the Parks I have read. Thank you Anne.

Agreed.

With 92 Million Americans not working wouldn't it be good to encourage jobs across the spectrum to bring in tax dollars so the parks could be funded more appropriately? I do understand the Parks do generate a lot of revenue but they are dependent on the income that visitors make in the private sector to fund their visits. Part of the equation that many in Park Community seem to ignore. Just saying...

You mean that the National Park Service should solve world peace and hunger before they should expect their own funding?

Thanks, y'all.

--Anne

I am sure that the NPS is under funded but there are things that the agency could do through reorganization to improve the situation.

1.) Less specialization. Break down the walls between divisions. I have seen too many parks with Rangers that have law enforcement commissions who have little law enforcement to do. Let them be more like the generalists type rangers of old. Put all the resources of a district under a single district ranger. Too often there are fee collectors lounging at the campground entrance all day while the interps are on their feet. Or Interps don't ever get to range in the park and learn first hand the resource they are interpreting. Let the VUAs & interps work with bio techs a couple days a week and have the bio tech do a program about wildlife now and then. This cant be done in all places but it can be done in some parks. Where it makes sense have non maintenance workers do minor maintenance and custodial work -let them.

2.) Close or transfer proprietorship of some parks. New Orleans Jazz? Women’s Rights NHP? I’m sure there are others. I’m sure the system can be trimmed.

3.) NPS leaders need to stop bending and breaking personnel laws to keep from having to pay people benefits by improperly using temporary appointments. If they can’t staff a facility or offer a service and do so without abusing labor they should close those facilities and not offer those services. Maybe if that is done politician will be forced to put funding where it needs to be.

4.) The Director of the NPS needs to keep the agency out of politics. The current director is clearly a far left man and that only alienates potential friends in congress when someone like Jarvis acts as he has.

3) We can assume now that you have made this point, in virtually every post including your choice of nickname. It's probably true in some parks, not true in others, and the point has been made. One note sambas are hard to dance to.

4) Only confirms your position in the spectrum, and starts the political mud slinging. Which you say you want kept out of here. Personally, I think he is fairly moderate, and ya know what? Your opinion and my opinion are both worth zippadidoodah in the cosmic scheme of things.


You mean that the National Park Service should solve world peace and hunger before they should expect their own funding?


Of course that was nothing close to what he said. His very valid point was, if we fix the fiscal health of the US by getting rid of the impediments to employment, we then will have the means to fund the Parks properly.

Rick B. ---If you had to split your job with someone else with you working six months of the year and other person taking if for the rest of the year all so your employer could deny you job security and benefits I don’t think you would be so blasé about it. If having people in leadership positions in the NPS falsifying documents in order to carry on abusive labor practices doesn’t bother you that’s too bad. They have a “everybody does it” attitude about this. I’ve heard it from their own mouths. If we can get angry about multi national corporations breaking labor laws shouldn't we be all the more angry about our government doing it? And I speak out on this not just for myself but for others in the same situation and for the good of the NPS. There is no question this has a huge negative impact on the mission of the agency.

Also it is hard to love Director Jarvis when he is pushing policies that cut experianced dedicated people out of the few perm jobs that open and funnels them to people that have less experiance; and less dedication to the agency through programs like Pathways and Pro Ranger. All for the sake of diversity.

I agree, Perpetual, that NPS hiring appears to be one heck of a mess now. Thank goodness I was in it in the old days. But I really wonder how many of those programs you mention are really the doing of Jon Jarvis and how many have been forced upon him and NPS by various special interests or even acts of Congress?

I don't know. I'm really wondering. Because as I've visited with seasonals all over the country, I've witnessed a lot of frustration and heartache. I don't understand much of it, but can certainly feel for those experiencing it.

Where did it all really come from and why?


so your employer could deny you job security and benefits


Why is it the obligation of the employer to do either? You reach a consentual agreement with your employer to work there. As long as he lives up to his side of the agreement, I don't see what the beef is.

ecbuck, the beef is that many parks take what is permanent work and divide it among multiple seasonals so that they do not have to fill the position with one permanent position. The practice is specifically banned under the law. For example a park might hire ten seasonals for the summer and five for the winter doing the same work at the same pay grade. That means five of those positions should be combined and be permaent jobs.

More and more parks are using two year temporary appointments. This type of appointment was designed to be used for short term projects or to fill in for permanent staff on long term sick leave or something like that but that is now being used just to keep the doors open at may sites and to same the management the work that comes with rotating seasonals every six months. The whole thing is just a doge to avoid giving people benefits and job security.

When the Statue of Liberty reopened after September 11 they hired a bunch of people on four year appointments. When their four years were up these people all had to reapply for their jobs. Those who were still there all got rehired to another four year term. These at least did have benefits but you but no career status in the agency; no promotions; no trasfers; etc. and the agency could decide not to reappoint you each year. The finally ended this after ten years of people serving in what were "temporary" positions. Permanent positions were opened at the Statue of Liberty but because of the way the application system had changed many of these folks couldn't get rehired into jobs they had been doing for years.


The practice is specifically banned under the law.


It shouldn't be. But, either way, you agreed to the terms when you took the job. If you don't like the terms, get a job somewhere else. Or become a superior employee that they can't afford to loose.

The programs that are bing use to bypass regular competitive merit based hiring in the hopes of increasing diversity do come form Jarvis. They are part of the "Centennial Initiative" program. The part with the changes in hiring are what is known as "A Call to Action:

This is a quote from Jarvis:

"A Call to Action does not depend upon new funding or new authorities. Instead, he told the group, the plan is based on flexibility, creativity and partnerships."

Perpetual seasonal--I am sorry you can't get a permanent position. Most parks have not filled a lot of those positions due to budget sequestration and other budget issues. I was a seasonal for 11 years. It's still about the best job I ever had.

I have no idea where you get the idea that Director Jarvis is on the far left of the political spectrum. I have known him for at least 20 years and never heard him talk leftist politics.

The quote from the Call to Action is simply a reflection of political reality. The NPS cannot expect any new infusion of authorities or money in the current budget climate.

Rick

Just a different point of view on government hiring:

I have worked in HR and budgeting for a government entity. We had two kinds of budget for personnel: hard/line budget and soft budget.

The hard/line budget was allocated every year. We had a number of lines which corresponded to the number of full-time permanent employees. Occasionally, we would be given a new line. A couple of times, our number of lines was reduced. When we were given a new line, we could hire a full time employee with benefits. When we lost a line, we couldn't fill an open position and permanently gave up the line. With hard/line hiring, final hiring approval came from above. We were allowed to note our preferences but the final word for who was hired was handed down to us.

The soft budget was not allocated. We could use it for almost anything and often used it for temporary and/or contract personnel. These people did not have to go through the same hiring process as the hard line people did; the approval was from within our department rather than outside it. The positions were generally limited in duration and benefits. Depending on the contract, some worked six months at a time and were renewed (usually but not always), some worked one year and their contract ended. Often, people hired using the soft budget were not hireable on the hard budget due to lack of specific qualifications. Occasionally, we had a temporary person apply for a permanent position. Their time in the position did not necessarily make them better qualified for the position.

We liked our seasonal/contract/temporary employees so much, we often kept them for years. Had we been able to use them to fill full-time permanent positions, we would have. However, often constraints with the available budget and how it was allocated made that impossible.

It isn't always the case that government entities are trying to get around paying benefits. The way the system is configured makes hiring temporary/contract labor our only method of filling necessary positions.

Perceptional Seasonal. I am with you on this one except for one minor point, I think it is a mistake to personally attack NPS Director Jarvis, assumptions on the character of an individual are troubling without solid evidence to back them up. It is better, in my view, to stick to the issue which in this case I am in agreement, for what its worth. It is important to review the history of the 1930's and the reasons for the Fair Labor Standards Act, and other labor laws that have followed including the recent Lily Ledbetter Act. PJ Ryan did an excellent op-ed on the book "Intern Nation". The author of Intern Nation brings up many points related to the situations a NPS seasonal contends with. It is probably going to take some law suits, just as are beginning to occur with interns in corporate and governmental work situations, to get things turned around. I have no problem with ECs position, that is of course, based on the premise that both parties are following the labor laws of the USA.


that both parties are following the labor laws of the USA.


Totally agree that both parties should follow the laws. Personally, I think many of the labor laws are wrong and a major impediment to our economy, but the law is the law.

But then, why would you go work for someone that you know is breaking the law?

Which labor laws do you find so oppressive? Agreeing to rehire veterans after they serve their reserve call-up? Paying overtime for over hours? Child labor laws?

rmackie, I have been concerned that mentioning Jarvis might distract from the simple point that violation of personnel regulations to avoid the cost of permanent employees in the NPS is rampant, but I have criticized Jarvis because he has to know this goes on and I have seen him do nothing about it; because he has instituted programs that bypass experienced, dedicated, temporary staff in favor of people who have to be talked into working for the NPS (they would call it outreach) ; for the way his refusal to enforce the rule of law for four months during Occupy DC made him look like he favored extremist political groups, and for how he had done nothing about the cult like shoot the messenger atmosphere that has led to the persecution of whistleblowers --in fact he has promoted and protected those who carried out the persecution.

Perpetual Seasonal, I am certainly no expert on this issue. I have observed many of practices you are alluding to recently on my fire assignments. As dahkota pointed out in an informative email, it is a very complicated process. Just reading some statistics on federal employment the last 5 years, almost 750,000 government positions have been eliminated. There has been nothing like the down sizing of the Federal Government since before the election of President Reagan. The private sector is not doing that well either, 71% of the jobs created (according to some labor department statistics), the last 5 years, (if my stats are correct), are service industry positions, mostly minimum wage jobs. Most american manufacturing jobs, once top paying working positions, now reside in other nations. Apple computer a good example and I love my apple computers. I recommend Intern Nation as a book worth reading, it will explain, at least from the authors point of view, many of the frustrations you maybe experiencing. The NPS Director along with agency management personnel throughout the federal government are all faced with some very tough choices. This is an interesting discussion, as the seasonal NPS employee, and I count many among my friends, are essential to the NPS mission, at least in my opinion.

Perpetual Seasonal, please excuse the multiple posts, I was thinking of of the three seasons I spent with the California Department of Fish and Game after my retirement from the NPS. The more I think of the plight of the NPS seasonal, it brought to mind the benefits of working for the State of California Resource Agency. We not only had the opportunity to sign up for health care through the state but could pay into the Calpers retirement system, Getting permanent was hard but possible. Being retired, I already had health and retirement, did not pursue permanent status, so I opted out. You might want to research California Resource Agency Seasonal positions and use them in your approach to the NPS seasonal employment issue.


greeing to rehire veterans after they serve their reserve call-up? Paying overtime for over hours? Child labor laws?


Those weren't the specific ones I was thinking of though I think overtime shouldn't be up to the government. Minimum wage is probably the most destructive and the protections for strikers would be another that I would object to. Licensing requirements are often overly burdensom and unnecessary as are many work place rules. The corporate mandate of Obamacare is another burden. Tax rules are also a major impediment to employment and economic growth. The list, unfortunately, is nearly endless.

[edit] Oh, and I forgot many of the environmental laws that are a substantial burden with little if any positive benefit.

Unfortunately, absolutely no surprises in that selfish list, based on what you've exposed of yourself on the boards.

Kurt - sorry about the tangent. Moving back to funding of the NPS now.


ust reading some statistics on federal employment the last 5 years, almost 750,000 government positions have been eliminated.


Unless you have some more recent statistics, this would suggest that while 750k may have been "eliminated" more were added.

http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0496.pdf


that selfish list,


Selfish? Other than benefiting (like everyone else) from an overall improvement in the economy - and the availability of more funding for the parks, how do I personally benefit from any of those items?

Perpetual Seasonal has my sympathy. Perhaps a little historical perspective would be of interest.

NPS management corruption was common during my career, especially where seasonal hiring was involved. My initial application at Rainier was for seasonal ranger; I was hired as a seasonal laborer, even though I was not on the proper register. My very first day, I learned I was a last minute replacement for Watergate figure John Erhlichman's son. My NPS housing roommate's father was head of the Border Patrol in Texas. I was surprised to hear locals refer to park management as 'those crooks', but slowly came to understand they were refering to a long-running pattern of favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism in hiring, surplus sales, and small contracts. After the political appointments were filled, most remaining seasonal jobs went to relatives and friends of the park Administrative Officer.

I found Olympic NP had this petty corruption down to a science when I transferred there for a permanent job years later. Most of the Maintenance shop foreman were from the same local high school clique. They avoided the national seasonal laborer registers and used some obscure student hiring authority to employ each other's relatives and friends every summer.

tahoma, I remember once looking at a list of personnel at a park and about half the HQ staff had the same last names and those were quite a few more where the wife just hadn't taken the husbands name.

If you are an outsider who gets into this environment and dares to mention it in the open. There is a good chance you won't be back.

Unless the rules about who can supervise whom (nepotism) have changed significantly, the situation that perp seasonal describes is highly unlikesly. If he/she is so disastisfied with the NPS, I suggest the he/she not accept any more sealsonal appointments. It is obviously making him/her upset, and no 6-month job is worth that.

As to Tahoma's corruption, I worked in 7 parks, the Washiingon DC office, and two regional offices and never found any corruption in those places. Maybe I was lucky and Tahoma wasn't. I certainly nerver heard the management of any of those places referred to as crooks. I hope Tahoma woriks in a place now where he is more content.

Rick

Anne's guest editorial was excellent and has generated much comment here. Among those comments were criticisms of seasonal hiring and benefit policies, nepotism, etc. I must admit that I observed many of these "abuse's of the spirit and intent of these policies, among others" during my own tenure with the NPS, though I still believe they were the minority of my experiences. Needless to say, I do not need to recount them here, but, as has been pointed out in some excellent books, the Robert Danno "Worth Fighting For" and the Paul Berkowitz "The Case of the Indian Trader" (as well as Barbara Moritsch "The Soul Of Yosmite"), are worth the reads and detail some of the needs for improvement within the NPS. I also agree that the cause of the current shutdown can be laid on the shoulders of the anti-government crowd. Their general hostility toward the concept of taxation, a social safety net and regulations in general create much public resentment against the very idea of the government in general, not just the NPS.


Their general hostility toward the concept of taxation, a social safety net and regulations in general create much public resentment against the very idea of the government in general,


A total mischaracterization of the right. The only thing they are "hostile" to is expanding taxation, social safety nets and government regulations beyond the parameters of the Constitution and to points where they become counterproductive - i.e high tax rates discouraging economic output, safety nets discouraging work and regulations dampening economic activity with no real incremental benefit.

What is proper funding for the NPS?

In my nearly 30 years of Federal government service; 1st in the military, then with DOD, and the majority of my time with the NPS, I have yet to meet an employee who was overpaid, nor a program manager, division chief or park superintendent that didn't need more staff, more resources or more $$$ to get the job done.

I honestly do not know what full or proper funding means. Is it funding to fill every vacant position on an org chart, or cure all deferred maintenance in the NPS, survey plants in the an area of the park closed to visitors? Is it more money for National Heritage Areas, and Wild and Scenic Rivers, and new park service units supported by well connected and vocal political and special interests?

Given the realities of the nation's finances, we would be better served setting priorities for the funding we do have, rather than lamenting that we are not "properly" funded. It is time to focus on the need to do, rather than the nice to do.

With the NPS Centennial just around the corner it might be time for the NPS to return to its roots and get back to basics.

* Everyone is a Park Ranger first. Staff needs to be multi-functional, cross-trained and willing to work across the full spectrum of park operations . In essence, reverse the trend in overspecialization. Yes, there is a need for specialists, just not sure they should be a the park level or even in the NPS for that matter. Partnerships with Universities, shared positions with BLM, USFS, other Federal agencies, State parks, contracting with private industry, etc.

* Flatten the organization; eliminate overhead. NPS is too top heavy. How many deputies, associates and assistant directors at the WASO and regional levels do we need? This isn't unique to the NPS. Just look at the US military - more flag/general officers now with less than 3 million Active/guard/reserve service members than we had with 12+ million men under arms at the end of WWII. Personnel and resources should be reassigned to the parks.

* At the park level, it may be time for the NPS to abandon the traditional, stove-piped, park division structure in favor of a more operationally responsive and flexible organization.

* Reverse grade inflation - Many postions in the NPS are overgraded. When position descriptions are sent to the HROC for classification, typically after the retirement of a long-term employee, many positions are coming back at a lower grade. GS-14 positions are coming back as GS-13s; and GS-12s are coming back as GS-11s or 9s.

* Remove or lessen self-imposed NPS restrictions on uses of FLREA, 152/tour tickets, visitor use, concession franchise fees, and project funds; with goal of providing more flexibility at the field level.

* Review NPS Director's Orders and Management Policies with the goal of reducing/streamlining the bureaucracy. The NPS is enamored with, and in many instances, paralyzed by its own processes. Whether its NEPA, NHPA, planning, resource studies, GMPs, foundation documents, etc., just one more study, one more survey, one more meeting and then we can proceed. Enough process for process's sake.

* As a agency, and as an idea, the NPS has been loved to death and in many ways is a victim of its own success. A comprehensive review of all NPS units should be undertaken with the goal of transferring/removing units that don't make the grade. I am not going to single out any particular units. Everyone can come up with their short list of units that may have value but don't belong in the NPS. Before anyone jumps off the deep end, I know the NPS didn't ask for nor support many of these congressional designations. However, as an agency the NPS is remiss in its duties if it doesn't at least voice its concerns on a recurring basis.

Anyway, just some thoughts from the trenches. Would I like to see more funding? Yes. In the meantime, we have a mission to accomplish and there is plenty that can be done within the current funding and organizational structure to get the job done.


, I have yet to meet an employee who was overpaid, nor a program manager, division chief or park superintendent that didn't need more staff, more resources or more $$$ to get the job done.


Maybe if their staff showed up, they would be able to get more done.

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/ali-meyer/bls-gov-t-workers-absent-50-more-private-sector-workers

Thanks ec,

Here are the stats from the CNSnews article if anyone is interested:

In 2012, according to BLS, private sector workers missed 1.4 percent of their usual work hours as a result of absences and government workers missed 2.1 percent of their usual work hours becasuse of absences. Thus, government workers missed 50 percent more of their usual work hours as a result of absences than private-sector workers did..

At 2080 hrs per year, comes out to be 30 hours missed annually by private sector employees and 43 hours missed annually by government employees.

Brutusman - Do you think the difference in work ethic only shows up in hours of absense?

Oh, and you missed the meet of the article: 4% were absense every week.

In 2012, according to BLS, 4.0 percent of government workers reported being absent from work in the typical reference week compared to 2.9 percent of private-sector workers. -

Hard to infer a lot based on the information in the article. For example, reasons for absence included illness, taking care of a family member or transportation problems. Did the population of private sector workers include those whose employer grants little or no time off for such reasons? If so, those employees will likely show up to work, sick or not - or send their kids to school, even if sick, because mom can't take any time off work. There have been some news stories covering the problems with spread of flu and other illness just for that reason. I know people in the private sector in such situations.

How much of the 43 hours a year off work for those reasons was vacation time the employee chose to use for those purposes, rather than for vacation? I have friends who use all their vacation time helping aging parents with needs.

How significant is the extra 13 hours a year (out of 2080 hours for a typical full-time employee) for a government vs. private sector employee?

Nice fodder for discussion, but maybe not much else, without more details.


How significant is the extra 13 hours a year


Its not just 13 hrs. That is the subset Brutus chose. It was 4% absense per week. All the "excuses" you offered would be just as valid for a private sector employee yet on the whole, they weren't absent as often by a significant amount. And if they (government employees) are absent 38% more what does that say about their work ethic? Are they 38% less productive when they do show up for work?

The answer isn't always "more money". In fact it seldom is. If Coburn's numbers are accurate ( and I haven't seen anyone contribute info that says it isn't), I would think you would be as appauled as anyone else that 1/2 the funding never gets to the parks. If you want more funding, as I do, we need to 1) improve the economy so there are more available funds and 2) convince people their money is being spent wisely - by spending their money wisely.

It is not what I chose, it is what BLS reported according on CNS. The 1.4 and 2.1 figures cited are the aggregate of all time absent for other than vacation/leave. Regardless it still comes out to a difference of 13 hours.

I did not come here to discuss BLS stats, but to comment on the concept of "full" or "proper" NPS funding. Since it seems that most folks rather quibble about 30 v 43 hours of sick time per year. I'll guess I'll go back to lurking.

Thanks

It isn't just a negatively phrased "work ethic". I know federal employees with an excellent work ethic who breath a sigh of relief because they now have sick leave. Because they now don't have to work ill and make everyone else ill. They can now legitimately take a day of leave to care for a sick loved one, where in the private sector they had no such benefits. It isn't all wonderful for the worker in that glorious private sector, ya know? And "feeding at the government trough" isn't all glory and easy sliding.

I don't quite understand what the turbulence is here. Historically, Americans are working longer and longer hours (and therefore have less and less leisure time)--far more than the rest of the industrialized world. If the government is able to secure more free time for Americans to spend their mortality, how is that a bad thing? I would defer to Zebulon and imtbke's comments about a lingering Puritan--or Protestant--ethos in our country.