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NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM REVIEW BOARD
TUESDAY, MAY 10, 1988
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS COMMITTEE ON INTERIOR AND INSULAR AFFAIRS
Washington, DC The subcommittee met at 10:05 a.m. in room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building, the Hon. Bruce Vento (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. VENTO. The Subcommittee on Parks and Public Lands will be in order.
This morning's meeting, is for the purpose of hearing the bill, H.R. 3964. The legislation which has numerous sponsors on a bipartisan basis, which we have worked to attain and I am sure we will gather more support as we consider the matter.
In introducing the bill, there are a lot of things that obviously relate to problems over the last 12 years of service on this committee that I and others have experienced in terms of trying to set policy. Today it is my belief that the units of the National Park System are in deadly peril, not only from independent land exploiters but the internal actions and political leadership within the Department of the Interior.
The National Park Service, established in law in 1916, evolved over the next 40 years into one of the most respected professional organizations in the Federal Government. Unfortunately, the wide popularity of the National Park System soon attracted the attention of the political opportunists.
In the last 20 years we have seen a serious breakdown of sound, long-term resource management, designed and built to protect our greatest national and historic treasures. This breakdown has resulted in a management system designed primarily to meet shortterm political goals.
The predictable results are obvious-a poorly protected system of the national parks, historic places, which are rapidly being decimated by shopping centers, such as in the Manassas Battlefield, the most recent one; decimated by subdivisions, such as Antietam National Battlefield; air pollution such as occurring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sequoia and King's Canyon, and Acadia National Parks; water diversion such as are affecting the Everglades National Park for one; aircraft intrusion decimation such as in the Grand Canyon National Park; overuse of many of our parks-probably Yosemite National Park is the best known problem. Most of all, the Park System is not being protected because of the lack of dollars, manpower, and the political interfer
ence with sound, long term, professional resource management policy decisions.
The leadership of the National Park Service had by tradition been provided from the ranks of dedicated professionals until the 1970's, when a Director was appointed from the staff of the Committee to Reelect the President. The professional Director of the National Park Service was fired because he tried to protect a park unit from exploitation by a Presidential contributor.
In later administrations, the Heritage Conservation And Recreation Service was created and was superimposed in part, I believe, in an attempt to weaken the role of the National Park Service.
The political problems of the National Park Service did not end and begin with a single political party. However, the recent Administration's actions are the most vivid and far-reaching effects on the National Park Service's ability to carry out its mission.
For example, political appointees were substituted for professionals at various levels and at different times, including a Deputy Director of the National Park Service. The Assistant Secretary's Office changed performance ratings of the employees for political reasons.
The Secretary of the Interior publicly attacked park personnel at the Grand Canyon, and threatened personnel action, which was dropped after the IG found no improprieties.
National Park Service personnel appearing before House committees, and before this committee specifically, routinely present testimony written by low level political appointees in the Assistant Secretary's Office that rarely reflects the uncolored professional views of the National Park Service.
The Assistant Secretary's Office forced the resignation of one Regional Director and forced the demotion of another for political reasons.
There have been numerous and significant attempts other than those I have listed to alter congressional directives to protect the interest of the Park System, to privatize, to eliminate professional leadership and replace it with political appointees, and to eliminate or diminish funding for the National Park System that have been fought and been won by many people and organizations who thwarted some of the efforts to politicize the National Park Service.
However, too many of these attempts have succeeded, and it is now clear that the pattern of political expediency will continue to undermine the political management of the National Park System unless we take some action to reassert a reasonable balance between long term protection of the National Park resources and of the National Park System and responsiveness to policy directives expected from any given Administration as well as restoring the credibility of status and morale of the rank and file National Park Service ranger. After all, he or she is the day-to-day steward of our National Park System.
I believe H.R. 3964, which I have introduced, does that. The bill does not direct any radical changes. It readjusts the critical relationship of the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior. The administration, the basic policy functions, and budget control are left with the Secretary, but the day-to-day professional policy and operations control are shifted to the Director of the National Park Service.
In brief, this measure would establish a National Park Review Board of three people, appointed by the President for fixed terms, who would provide an overview of the Park System and report directly to the Congress and President at least annually about park needs, new areas for designation, budget or any other items of interest.
It establishes a 5-year term for the Director of the National Park Service and requires that he or she be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
Duties regarding the National Park Service currently assigned to the Secretary of the Interior would be transferred to the Director.
All of these appointments would be from people knowledgeable of natural and cultural resources, such as State resource directors or professors or cultural and natural resource managers or museum directors. The appointee could be removed from office for cause.
If, as the Congress and the administration, we want to foster responsible and responsive stewardship, we must work together and create an administrative structure that will achieve the opportunity for advocacy and professionalism in the National Park Service.
The rank and file core of workers must know that the predicate for promotion and reward is grounded in their credentials and application, their application to implement sound National Park Service policies that have been developed with their professional participation.
While the legislation as introduced may need to be reworded, the perception of the problem and the concept of autonomy as a solution are well justified.
Do any other members have opening remarks?
Mr. CHENEY. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I do have to leave briefly, and then I will be back for the rest of the hearing.
This is an important piece of legislation. I noticed in your opening remarks, admittedly on a side issue, you talked about the Manassas Battlefield controversy that has developed.
I wondered if the chairman of the committee has plans to ask for referral of what has been attached to the appropriations bill.
Mr. VENTO. The matter that has been attached is a limitation on spending. That is a normal function of the appropriations function. We have no jurisdiction.
Mr. CHENEY. Mr. Chairman, I would point out that you yourself mentioned this was a major item, a major issue, something that was not being well handled at present because of the possible development that could spoil the Manassas Battlefield, and yet we are iaking a pass on it and it is going to be decided based upon an amendment through the Department of Transportation appropriations bill.
I would argue strenuously that if this committee is going to protect its jurisdiction and carry out its obligations that we should demand that that come before this hearing so that we have the opportunity to look at the proposal that has been made and make a
recommendation and have some influence over how that matter is decided.
I would urge the Chairman to consider the possibility that he might want to join
Mr. VENTO. If the gentleman would yield.
I can assure the gentleman that the issue will be before this committee in one form or another. So there is no intention to avoid the policy issue, and I expect and hope that I have the cooperation of the gentleman in expeditiously dealing with that policy issue before this committee.
Mr. CHENEY. I would be delighted to join with my colleague from Minnesota in signing a letter today to the Speaker, asking for referral of that matter.
Mr. VENTO. I said we have the issue. The issue on the appropriations matter is not our jurisdiction.
Mr. CHENEY. The entire matter is going to be decided by the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, and this committee will never have word one to say about it unless we ask immediately for that referral.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, move on to other areas, briefly comment on the bill.
As a basic proposition, while I would like to approach these hearings with an open mind, my initial reaction to the proposal to grant more independence to the National Park Service is that it would create more problems than it would solve. I think the argument is made that somehow this legislation will depoliticize the National Park Service.
I would argue that the National Park Service has prospered under this administration. The claim that there is some kind of fundamental problem here with the politicization of the National Park Service simply is not valid and does not stand up to the bright light of day.
I think Mr. Mott, who clearly has been a strong advocate for the National Park Service, appointed in this administration-I oftentimes have disagreement with him over policy, but he certainly has never been a man who did anything other than speak his piece in terms of what he thought was best for the National Park Service.
I am concerned that if we adopt this legislation that we will enhance the political problems of the National Park Service because most of the political problems of the National Park Service come not from the executive branch but from Congress.
It was Congress that interfered and shut down the National Park Service proposal to charge fees at certain of our national monuments, like the Statue of Liberty.
It has often been true in the past that the Congress requires the National Park Service to adopt and adapt facilities or locations; for example, Steam Town in Pennsylvania that the National Park Service didn't want but ultimately was forced on it by action of the Congress.
I think what this legislation would do is probably make it more likely that Congress will be involved in micromanaging the National Park Service, and I don't think that is in anybody's interest. I
ink the current system works well.