The Bushification of the National Parks Service

Monday, October 24, 2005 at 03:21 PM

If you can promote the No Child Left Behind Act and the proposed Social Security privatization plans as if they were new products straight from the Corporate Board Room, why not mess with the National Parks?  If you've already established that no hack is too much of a hack to be made the head of FEMA, or the head of federal procurement, why not screen National Park Service employees for politics before allowing them to enter the ranks of management?  Who knows, maybe political screening will turn out to be an improvement over the usual Bush administration policy of no screening.

I'm telling you, we're even one more step closer to having to buy air from some multinational air vendor.

From a 10-24-05 editorial in the Daily Astorian from Astoria, Oregon full story here

How about a Wal-Mart Fort Clatsop? Bush wants to commercialize national parks: Where are Ron and Gordon?

After public outrage about proposed management changes that would significantly weaken protection of national parks, a Bush appointee has permitted a less objectionable set of policies to come forward. Even so, obvious moves are afoot to commercialize and politicize the National Park Service.

Assistant Deputy Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman, former director of the chamber of commerce in Cody, Wyo., two months ago floated an onerous shift in direction for the park service. Giving less attention to careful stewardship of these precious assets for future generations as the NPS, Hoffman wants more emphasis on using parks for motorized recreation and making money. It is no coincidence that Cody is a major base for Yellowstone snowmobile tours.

After the debacle surrounding Hoffman's first stab at changing the NP's fundamental direction, a broader group of political appointees and professional staff wrote the latest plan with Hoffman looking over their shoulders. One retired park superintendent noted these new policies are better than those put forth earlier this year, but added "Trouble is, a Woodsy Owl comic book would be an improvement over the Hoffman draft."

In fact, there is no justification for revisiting NPS's management policies at this time. They were just rewritten in 2001 and wouldn't have been revised for another 10 to 15 years except for the Bush administration's goal of turning the nation's parks into profit centers for private businesses like those that rent snowmobiles.

This latest rule revision, which still appears to undercut some key conservation objectives such as preserving clear air in national parks, must also be considered within the context of other damaging policy changes. As The New York Times reported last week, park personnel who want to advance into upper management in the NPS will be required to go through a political screening process.
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The NY Times piece referenced in the above is an editorial titled "The National Parks Under Siege," October 21, 2005.

How could such unnecessary, bureaucratic meddling have occurred?  According to the Archinect web site link here:

One of the most troubling aspects of this revised policy is how it was produced. Instead of being shaped by park service professionals thinking in a timely way about how to do their jobs better, this is a defensive document that was rushed forward to head off the more sweeping damage that Mr. Hoffman's first draft threatened to do. It is a tribute to the National Park Service veterans who worked on it that they were able to mitigate so much of the harm, even though they, too, were working directly under Mr. Hoffman's eye. They risked their jobs to protect the parks from political appointees in the Interior Department. This is a measure of how distorted the department's policies have become.

There is more potential damage on the way. At least two deeply worrying new directives have been handed down. One allows the National Park Service to solicit contributions from individuals and corporations instead of merely accepting them when they're offered. This is another way to further the privatization of the national parks and edge toward their commercialization. Privatizing the government's core responsibilities - like the national parks - is unacceptable, and so is the prospect of any greater commercial presence in the parks.

More alarming still is a directive released last week that would require park personnel who hope to advance above the middle-manager level to go through what is essentially a political screening. What we are witnessing, in essence, is an effort to politicize the National Park Service - to steer it away from its long-term mission of preserving much-loved national treasures and make it echo the same political mind-set that turned Mr. Hoffman, a former Congressional aide to Dick Cheney and a former head of the Cody, Wyo., chamber of commerce, into an architect of national park policy.
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