Washington, DC — The Bush administration has directed the National Park Service to substantially decrease its reliance on tax-supported funding, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In a turnabout from the last two presidential campaigns when candidate Bush promised greater funding of parks, new “talking points” distributed last week to all park superintendents urge them to begin “honest and forthright” discussions with the public about smaller budgets, reduced visitor services and increased fees.
Using a new approach called Core Operations Analysis, each park is asked to develop budgets based on a 20 to 30% reduction in appropriation support. In this exercise, park superintendents decide which visitor services or other functions can be jettisoned (“staffing and funding alternatives based on realistic funding projections,” in the words of the Park Service). Whatever shortfalls in support for essential operations that remain must be made up for with fee hikes, cost shifting or increased reliance on volunteers.
Once the Core Operation Analysis is finalized, each park is then put on a “glide path” to implement the agreed upon reductions during the next five years.
In the talking points memo issued on April 11, 2006, park public affairs and budgetary staff provide coaching as to how individual parks should spin shrinking budgets and reduced visitor services, including:
- “The National Park Service, like most agencies, is tightening its belt as our nation rebuilds from Katrina, continues the war on terrorism and strives to reduce the deficit” and
- “Our satisfaction rating is over 96 percent nationally, and has remained high for several years. That’s a clear indicator that budgets have not reduced visitor enjoyment.”
By contrast, prior to the 2004 election, park officials were ordered to avoid mention of cutbacks and instead use the euphemism “service level adjustments.” In talking points distributed on April 7, 2004, park managers were instructed to counter charges of lower budgets by declaring “NPS has fared well under President Bush.”
“Rather than being honest about planned budget cuts, the Bush administration once again makes stealth policy decisions cloaked by management reform mumbo jumbo,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “If our national parks are going to be reduced to performing only the bare minimum of ‘core operations’ the public ought to be given some say as to what is considered essential.”