You are here

Congress Creates Some Of The National Park Service's Funding Headaches


To understand where some of the National Park Service's budget headaches come from, you need go no further than Congress.

Legislation recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer asked the Park Service to study the merits of "commemorating and interpreting the role of the Buffalo Soldiers in the early years of the National Parks..."

The U.S. Army, including regiments of Buffalo Soldiers, was responsible for protecting national parks before the National Park Service was established.

The Congressional Budget Office pegged the cost of such a study at $400,000.


This one's a puzzler. Ranger Shelton Johnson has been working on this for a while at Yosemite. I haven't been there in a while but I imagine the Buffalo Soldiers are more visible than they used to be. They made it into the Ken Burns film and onto Oprah, after all.They're on the website at least:

Yellowstone could do more to point out that the famous images of bicyclists at Yellowstone are Buffalo Soldiers. Put the $400,000 into exhibits, not a study.

This issue seems to be well begun already.

One question should always be asked when considering the merits or demerits of almost any Congressional action: Which of the congresscritter's donors stands to benefit dollarwise?

There are bound to be plenty of other examples of congressionally-mandated spending for studies and similar projects, if we just had time to dig them out.

Here's one more: According to news reports back in March, "Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, wants to turn the boyhood home of the 43rd president [George W. Bush] into a national park."

"Conaway asked that a “reconnaissance survey” be done to see whether the childhood home at 1412 W. Ohio Ave. in Midland, where the family lived from 1951 to 1955, is worthy of becoming a unit of the National Park Service. It already is a nonprofit museum..."

The survey was expected to cost "up to $25,000." It's not clear if it's yet started, due to the sequester.

Nope, not "big bucks" in the grand scheme of things, but these days, every dollar is more important than ever.

I am unclear of what the issue is here -- are you objecting to the COST of the surveys (which would seem to indicate that you don't want the surveys done at all) or to the entity REQUESTING the surveys.

Studies to assess the merit and impact of a new park unit, be it an historical designation or protecting a natural resource seems an essential first step in adding holdings to the park service. The NPS has, as we all know, a limited budget and there are only so many worthy places they can reasonably manage. Since Congress is ultimately responsible for creating new park units and expanding existing ones, it makes sense that the majority of new unit survey requests would be filtered through them (I could see some coming from inside NPS itself). It is often a congressperson's own constituent base that requests consideration.

For instance, before he resigned from office, Jesse Jackson Jr. was actively pursuing funding for a study to see if the historic section of Pullman (located on Chicago's south side) would qualify for a national historic landmark/park. This place is not well-known outside of the Chicago area, but it is a remarkably well-preserved piece of American history, an almost complete "company town" located just minutes from a major downtown area. It is currently being managed by a local non-profit (much like Jim Burnett's GWB's boyhood home example). As to motivation, Jackson's constituents were the ones who pushed him to pursue the NPS designation, as it would boost the profile of the community and hopefully increase tourist dollars. This was an example of a Congressperson actually doing his job -- acting on the requests of his constituents.

And if this is simply a cost issue, what is the solution? I have no idea why a survey would be allocated $400,000, but is the alternative to not do the survey at all? Would $100,000 result in an incomplete and useless document? Who knows. But the NPS is a government bureacracy just like any other -- the red tape and cost overruns are to be expected. I'd rather see that money used in a different way, but I'd also like to see them continue to add things to the NPS system, and if the cost of that is a Congressionally commissioned survey, I can live with that.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide