- October 29 - The Department of Interior spending bill that passed the Interior Appropriations conference committee this week reveals Congress continuing skepticism about the White Houses aggressive outsourcing proposal, but does not delay the process. The bill also allows for damaging road claims and construction in parks and other public lands.
The good news is that Congress clearly remains quite doubtful and is attempting to force more transparency into the administrations privatization process, said Craig Obey, vice president for government affairs for the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The bad news is that the National Park Service still has to waste millions of its scarce dollars on a flawed process that is doing more to hurt rather than help the national parks.
Although the final bill does not include the strident language about privatization that was in the House version of the Interior bill, the committee expressed reservations about the process by mandating that the Park Service spend no more than $2.5 million on all ongoing studies and any new studies that might be conducted in fiscal year 2004. Additionally, the committee established extensive reporting requirements and expects to receive the Park Services first report on monies spent on privatization studies by December 31, 2003.
The first privatization studies are expected to look at Park Service jobs at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and the Midwest Archaeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Additional studies are slated to begin in the coming year.
In addition to allowing privatization to proceed, the Interior bill does not contain park-protective language about RS 2477 offered by the Chairman of the Committee, which an overwhelming majority of the House supported. As a result, national parks and other public lands remain vulnerable to damaging road construction and off-road vehicle use facilitated by this harmful administration policy.
The bill does include a modest increase for national park operations, although it falls far short of the $178 million increase that NPCAs Americans for National Parks campaign sought to address critical park needs and a system-wide annual shortfall of more than $600 million.