Editor’s Note: The National Park Service (NPS) is ramping up for the spring and summer months, just as the mandated across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration are setting in. Despite current budget woes, NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis still thinks he has the best job in America. He spoke to The Hill about the impact of budget cuts on the parks, what the public can expect this spring and his vision for the agency’s future.
Q: Now that the sequester has gone into effect, what impact is it having on the National Park Service?
The problem with the sequester is that by law, it is line by line in the budget, and the National Park Service is budgeted park by park, so every national park, all 398 national park units in the system, have a line in the budget. Every one of them takes 5%. And there’s no authority for me to make those changes, so every park in the system, whether it’s the National Mall or Gettysburg or Prince William Forest or Great Falls or G.W. Parkway or Yellowstone and Yosemite, every one of them has to find 5%.
The second piece is that it comes halfway through the year. And just as we here in Washington are gearing up for spring and summer events, every national park in the system is gearing up for their summer. Now, there will be no park closures. We’re not closing down. This is not a government shutdown. This is a cutback on services across the system, and each of our park superintendents has had to make individual choices of that, and we’re seeing those kinds of effects across the entire system.
Q: If nothing is done to reverse the sequester, what will that mean as we get later into spring and summer?
States are offering assistance, our friends, organizations are helping out, sometimes the gateway communities. I think that we’re trying to provide as much public information and certainty so people can make their plans for the summer.
What’s really interesting about national parks is that we get a high percentage of repeat visitors. There are families that come every year to this campground, to this campsite, and they’ve done it for four generations and they may be impacted this time. It may just not be open when they traditionally use it, so we’ll see more and more of that as it plays out through the summer.
Q: If you were tasked with reducing the budget by 5%, are there cuts that would make more sense, if you had the discretion?
There are things that we can delay, construction projects. Five percent hurts, but we could move money around within the organization to probably minimize the impact to the field and to the resources.
Q: Are there any Washington, D.C.-specific impacts from the sequester that people should be paying attention to?
Absolutely: there will be reduced hours of rangers available at all of the monument sites and reduced availability of rangers to give interpretive programs, to be there to answer questions and provide directions. All of that is being reduced across the monuments and memorials. The same thing with our security staff. We’ll make sure that we’re maintaining, but it will be a reduced presence across (the agency). To be blunt about it, we’re not going to do as frequent trash pickup, so there’ll be some overflowing trash cans out there that will be unsightly. We’ll come and get them, but during peak, we do it multiple times during the day; we’re not going to be able to do that this year. And we’re looking at our entire events schedule throughout the year, and seeing where we can save some money.
To read the entire interview click here.