Bush Administration Squelches Bad News on Parks

June 29, 2004

Candidate George W. Bush made two promises on the environment when he ran for President in 2000: he would regulate carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, and he would close the $5 billion maintenance backlog for our national parks. It took President George W. Bush a mere 53 days to break his promise on reducing greenhouse gases. [1] And to the dismay of environmentalists and career park officials alike, America's national parks have been steadily deteriorating since the President took office.

To deter public awareness of his national parks reversal, it appears the President has imposed a gag rule on park managers to prevent them from disclosing just how underfunded the parks have become. Since 1998 the Park Service has been collaborating with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) http://www.npca.org , a nonprofit advocacy group, to create business plans for the country's parks. With federal funding, NPCA and the Park Service recruited graduate students from the country's top business schools to identify funding problems and develop management solutions for the parks. The 64 reports produced so far portray a Park Service woefully short of money, with most parks showing annual budget shortfalls of around 30 percent.

This information has apparently not been sitting comfortably with the administration. The business plan for Olympic National Park in Washington, for example, was kept from the public after it found that funding shortages were crippling the park. The report found that Olympic, which had 3.2 million visitors last year, receives only about half the money it needs. The Washington Post last week quoted a Park Service official, who spoke anonymously out of fear of retaliation, as saying that the report was withheld because the Bush administration "...doesn't like bad news. They don't like to see or hear about it or fix it. And they punish the messenger."

Ron Tipton, senior vice president for programs at NPCA, told BushGreenwatch http://www.bushgreenwatch.org , "It's really regrettable that the Department of Interior appears to be uncomfortable with full public disclosure of the results of these business plans. The public and key decision-makers need this information to assure the parks are adequately funded and staffed so their visitors have a high quality experience."

The superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park was forced to cancel a scheduled press conference to announce that park's business plan, which showed budget shortfalls. The plan was later made public on the park's web site. The press conference was canceled, according to a Park Service spokesman, not to hide the plan but because NPCA "might go out there and say a lot of things that our superintendents aren't comfortable saying."

Apparently, however, it appears to be the Park Service's political appointees who are uncomfortable. To solve the problem of reports informing the public of chronic underfunding, the Park Service has canceled its partnership with NPCA. As NPCA's Tipton explained to the Post: "We were not seen as a friendly voice."

[1] "Environmental Reversal," Online Newshour, PBS, Mar. 14, 2001.



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