Read the PEER letter to Interior Secretary Norton

Washington, DC – President George W. Bush’s Budget “Blueprint” will result in significant staff cuts at the US Department of Interior hobbling already under-manned natural resource agencies, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In a letter today to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, PEER urged that field staff not be further reduced and released figures showing that every Interior agency lost staff during the Clinton years — with the notable exception of the Office of the Secretary — despite steadily growing workloads.

Under the Bush budget plan released last week, the funding levels for the Department of Interior (DOI) core operating budget will be cut 4 % from existing levels. Since this overall cut includes sizeable proposed increases in spending for park maintenance and land acquisition, DOI will likely have to seek even deeper personnel reductions in order to meet this budget target. The League of Conservation Voters, for example, is now predicting:

“Within the Interior Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management, which sets policies on grazing and mining rights, could each face budget cuts of up to 20 percent.” According to the PEER figures:

* DOI staffing has fallen more than 17% from 1992, through 1999; falling from 86,050 full-time employees (“FTEs”) to 72,830.

* By contrast, the only agency within DOI which significantly increased staffing during this period was the Office of the Secretary of Interior which grew by nearly a third (30%), from 1,114 FTEs in 1992 to 1,444 in 1999.

At the same time that overall staffing levels have fallen, by virtually every measure the workload for the DOI agencies has soared — the total acreage of DOI lands, number of parks, refuges and other units, visitor-ship to those units, number of permits, concessions and other transactions affecting those units have all risen, in some cases, dramatically.

“On one hand the President is proposing to vastly increase energy exploration and production from public lands as a central plank of his energy plan, but with the other hand he is proposing to eliminate the very biologists, geologists and land managers needed to responsibly evaluate and administer these new applications,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Under Clinton, cuts came from the bottom, leaving lots of chiefs but few Indians; President Bush is poised to compound the mistakes of his predecessor.”

The PEER analysis is based upon figures compiled by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

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