Park Service Ordered to Land
Matters News Service
The General Accounting Office and Interior Department inspector general
have released a report on the travel habits of U.S. Park Service revealing
it had spent over $100 million since 2002 to send employees all over
The report prompted Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) and Norm Dicks (D-WA)
to send a letter to Park Service Director Fran Mainella ordering her
to keep her folks on the ground. "In this technology age, the
service should be using teleconferencing and other means of automated
communications in lieu of costly travel," the letter read. P
ark Service employees spent over $50 million on travel in 2002 including
470 trips abroad and $44 million was spent for travel in 2003 and
the first quarter of 2004, with France being a popular destination.
At the same time, the Park Service says it needs more money. So,
to cut costs, it is proposing to eliminate life guards at public beaches,
close entire parks on Sundays and Mondays and visitor centers on federal
holidays, and completely close national parks from November through
February. Pretty much eliminates the snowmobile problem in Yellowstone.
Lawmakers were also angered to learn Park Service employees had commissioned
four major construction projects, totaling $243 million, without obtaining
the required congressional approval. John Scofield, spokesman for
the House Appropriations Committee, said, "[T]he Park Service
has not vetted these projects with the bill payer, which is Congress."
Park Service jet-setters grounded
By Audrey Hudson
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The National Park Service wants to cut park hours and visitor services
to save scarce funding, yet has spent nearly $100 million on travel,
including foreign junkets to China, Japan, Africa, France and Russia
Globe-trotting employees held meetings, attended conferences and gave
presentations during their trips, but the practice has angered lawmakers,
who say they are pulling the plug on the agency's travel program.
Rep. Charles H. Taylor, North Carolina Republican and chairman of
the House Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, and Rep. Norm
Dicks, Washington Democrat and ranking minority member of the subcommittee,
told Park Service Director Fran Mainella to cancel all foreign trips
and significantly cut domestic travel.
"In this technology age, the service should be using teleconferencing
and other means of automated communications in lieu of costly travel,"
the lawmakers told Mrs. Mainella in a letter released yesterday.
The lawmakers said next year's budget will require employees to obtain
congressional approval for travel abroad.
Park Service employees spent $44 million on travel, including 215
foreign trips, in 2003 and the first quarter of 2004. Foreign and
domestic travel in 2002 topped $50 million and included 470 foreign
junkets, according to the General Accounting Office and Interior Department
Records show one employee went to Russia and the Congo at a cost of
$13,200, and another went to China, South Africa and twice to France
for $19,200. An employee in the director's office took two trips to
France for a total $6,300, and another employee went to Canada and
South Africa for $10,000. One trip to Finland cost $5,600; another
China trip cost $6,900.
An employee whose office was listed as "unknown" took a
$4,500 trip to Mexico, and other "unknowns" took a $4,000
trip to France and a $3,000 trip to Argentina.
David Barna, spokesman for the Park Service, said it is policy not
to comment on communications between Congress and the director and
that a written response will be sent to the lawmakers.
Mr. Barna said not all travel is paid for by taxpayers, and that some
is funded by third parties such as the World Bank to assist other
countries with park-management plans.
The inspector general report released late yesterday shows less than
1 percent of travel is made to provide technical assistance to other
Meanwhile, the Park Service says it is starved for money and is threatening
to slash services. A memo from the Park Service's Northwest region
last week suggests eliminating life guards at a public beach, closing
entire parks on Sundays and Mondays and visitor centers on federal
holidays, and shutting down completely November through February.
Despite limited funding for current projects, renegade employees secretly
planned and designed four new major construction projects with a $243
million price tag, plus tens of millions for yearly operational expenses,
the lawmakers discovered.
"Diverting funds from critical backlog maintenance is unacceptable,"
they said in the letter.
Park employees sidestepped a law that requires congressional approval
of all construction projects costing more than $5 million by having
outside "partners" develop the plans.
The recently discovered projects include a $100 million complex under
construction at Valley Forge National Historical Park that will showcase
a private collection of memorabilia, a $95 million visitor center
at Gettysburg National Military Park and a $26 million center at Yellowstone
Lawmakers didn't learn about a $22 million visitor center at Grand
Teton National Park until the developer came to Capitol Hill last
week asking for funding he said the Park Service had committed to
"Common sense dictates that before you embark on an expensive
new project, you should first consult with the people who are paying
the bills," said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations
Committee. "And the Park Service has not vetted these projects
with the bill payer, which is Congress."