Park Service Is Rebuked on Hill for Proposed Cuts

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 23, 2004; Page A04

Two key House members have rebuked National Park Service officials for plans to shorten park hours and trim services, saying better management and less foreign travel by parks officials would make such cuts unnecessary.

"The parks are a national treasure and the Park Service should not restrict our citizens' ability to enjoy them," wrote Reps. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.) and Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) in a two-page letter Friday to Park Service Director Fran P. Mainella. Taylor and Dicks are the chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Park Service.

Park Service spokesman David Barna had no immediate comment yesterday. Mainella is scheduled to appear before the panel Thursday, and "she will probably be responding to this then," he said.

A recent internal memo asked park superintendents in the Northeast to develop lists of cuts, such as closing parks on Sunday and Monday, that would help the agency cope with tight budgets. The memo was released last week by three outside groups that support increased park funding.

Taylor and Dicks acknowledged that the Park Service has had to absorb the cost of pay increases, storm damage and anti-terrorism efforts. But its budget has also increased by hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, they wrote. The agency's operating budget is $1.61 billion this year, up from $1.1 billion in 1994, according to budget documents. Moreover, agency officials found $50 million to pay for foreign and domestic trips in fiscal 2002, and $44 million on such trips in fiscal 2003, the lawmakers noted.

"[T]here have been over 215 trips to China, South America, Africa, France, Italy and other countries since the beginning of 2003," they wrote. "With the parks facing operations shortfalls, there are clear choices that need to be made."

Beginning in October, all foreign travel must be approved by the subcommittee, Taylor and Dicks wrote. They suggest the agency increase teleconferencing, defer some training and redirect $10 million in grants for operations. Such steps could save as much as $25 million, they said.

Lawmakers also criticized Mainella for beginning four large construction projects, including a $100 million visitor center at Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania, without obtaining the required approval of Congress.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company



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