“It’s very, very hard to speak truth to power when the truth is unpleasant. I think it’s one of the toughest things, especially a young person has to do, when the only way you can do it is if you’re willing to walk out the door if he doesn’t take your advice, or you’re willing to walk out the door if he goes over the line.”
-David Gergen, White House Advisor (Nixon/Ford/Reagan/Clinton Administrations)
I’m trying to put words to paper here and I am just so lost. I don’t know what to say.
By now, many of you have probably read the Washington Post’s article about how President Trump took $2.5 million from the National Park Service, seemingly overnight, to help fund his July 4th event.
I am so conflicted. I was raised watching fireworks displays on the 4th, listing to music like the classic Sousa marches, and putting my right hand over my heart when the National Anthem played.
I am a public servant; I work for the federal government. This is my third administration to serve under.
But this week, I just want to sit and cry in embarrassment and shame.
Fee money in the National Park Service is so complicated. In fact, it actually takes special permission, in the form of actual laws, for the National Park Service (along with other bureaus from Interior and Agriculture) to even collect fees at all. The current legislation is called the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), and was originally enacted during fiscal year 2005 as part of Public Law 108-447. At the time, it was hoped that fees would help offset the growing backlog of maintenance projects in our parks.
Fourteen years later, constant budget cuts to the parks – along with a host of other problems too numerous to discuss today – have forced that backlog of maintenance projects to be valued at around $12 billion dollars. In 2019, the parks are begging to use FLREA funds just to hire a few extra staff members to meet the ballooning visitation; forget the maintenance projects.
Here’s where it gets personal for me: that $2.5 million? The NPS unit I work at is small, granted, but our net appropriation for fiscal year 2019?
Mr. Trump stole MORE THAN THREE TIMES what my park is given to operate for AN ENTIRE YEAR.
I have that number memorized because I have to watch our budget every single day to make sure we’re on track and paying salaries and electric bills so we can keep the doors open to our visitor center.
My ‘park’ (in the NPS, we tend to refer to any unit as a park, even if it’s a monument or battlefield, or one of the 61 units that actually bears the title of ‘National Park’) is a National Monument, and we are one of just a handful of key paleontology sites protected in the U.S.
Like most NPS sites, we don’t actually collect entrance fees. Surprised? Most sites don’t collect fees. The big parks collect fees, some units collect monies from special use permits or attendance at specific programs, etc.
Small units like mine are required to apply for funding from FLREA for specific projects or programs. Think of it like writing a grant proposal. Congress gives us a small appropriation and anything we need beyond that we must apply for annually. During fiscal year 2019, I wrote one such project, requesting $6,000.00 to replace some of our aging IT infrastructure to meet current security standards. I am happy to report that my project proposal was accepted – but won’t be funded until fiscal year 2020. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that I can use our appropriations for staff salaries and utility bills, and that rather outdated server and network components can be replaced using project money.
But if Corporate America had to “make do” like the National Park Service does, I believe perspective among the 1% wouldn’t be such a foreign concept. So when Trump slapped us in the face this week, you bet I took it personally. It still stings.