Cuts To Grand Teton National Park's Staff Will Delay Emergency Response, Close Some Facilities

Budget cuts will translate into longer emergency response time by Grand Teton National Park rangers, and some closed facilities, this summer. Photo by QT Luong via

Climbers, backcountry travelers, and even front-country campers at Grand Teton National Park will face longer response times if they get in trouble this year as a result of federal budget cuts, according to the park superintendent.

Rangers that patrol the Tetons, Jackson Lake, and the Snake River will be stretched a bit thin by the budget sequestration, potentially leaving visitors to fend for themselves for a while if they are hurt or lost.

“We’re trying to minimize the impacts on visitor services these cuts would have. However, there is no way to take this reduction without reducing the amount of services we provide," Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said Monday during a telephone call with reporters.

All park visitors could notice a reduction in services, as the need to trim $700,000 from Grand Teton's budget is leading to reduced seasonal ranger staffing, closed visitor centers, and closure of some areas of the park, she said.

“We know there will be delays in responding to search and rescue, as well as medical emergencies and law enforcement," the superintendent said. "Our responsibilities I take very seriously on both employee and visitor safety. We are trying to maintain those functions to the degree we can. I just think that we will have delays in pulling together if there’s a major search and rescue, being able to pull all the resources we need.”

Grand Teton averages 70-75 search-and-rescue incidents a year, ranging from aiding visitors who twist an ankle and looking for lost children to rescuing climbers from the mountains.

Across the National Park System park managers are cutting here and there to bring their budgets in line with the across-the-board cuts agreed upon by the Congress and the White House. Parks such as Yellowstone and Acadia are pushing their spring opening dates back a month, some campgrounds will remain closed in places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and backcountry toilets might not get pumped out.

Multiplying the problems created by the sequestration is the fact that those cuts are heaped on a general budget shrinkage, Superintendent Gibson pointed out.

“These cuts come on top of a flat budget for the past four fiscal years, and when adjusted for inflation our budget has actually declined by approximiately 8 percent over that time period. That number is prior to sequestration taking effect," she said.

A bit more than half of the $700,000, some $372,000, in cuts are being made by reducing the ranks of seasonal rangers by 26. While the park hires approximately 180 seasonal rangers each year, only about 90 of those are paid for through Grand Teton's base operating budget. The other 90 are funded through grants targeted at specific projects, such as removing invasive plants or maintaining trails.

"We depend on our seasonals to operate the parks during the summer, staffing the visitor centers, road patrol, managing wildlife jams, firefighting, search-and-rescue and emergency response, and custodial, such as cleaning restrooms," the superintendent explained.

As a result of fewer seasonal rangers, hours of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Moose, the Colter Bay Visitor Center, and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center will most likely be reduced this year, she said. However, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center and the Flagg Ranch Information Station will be closed entirely, as will the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

"We will also not be able to provide ranger-led interpretive or education programs as we have in the past. We will provide limited programs at visitor centers ... although we will not provide the typical array of programs, such as the campfire talks and the majority of ranger-led walks," said Superintendent Gibson.

Areas that will be closed include the Spalding Bay, Two Ocean Lake, and Schwabacher's Landing areas, as the park lacks the staff to maintain the restrooms and trash at those sites, she said. Eight dispersed-site campgrounds along the Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller Parkway also will not open this summer, the superintendent added.

While the park is delaying its snow removal operations on the Teton Park Road by about two weeks, until April 1, snowfall was not great this past winter and the park staff should be able to open the road on schedule on May 1, she said. "Other roads will be allowed to naturally melt out this spring. These include Moose-Wilson, Antelope Flats, Signal Mountain Summit, and Death Canyon," the superintendent added.

"This has not been an easy exercise for any park manager. To try and figure out, in the middle of March, how you'll run a park in full summer operations (with reduced staff and funding)," Superintendent Gibson said. "We’ve had to actually withdraw offers to seasonals that were already made, as we realized what cuts we would have to make when we got our numbers and what the percentages were."


$700,000? Heck that is less than a Biden two night stay in Paris/London hotels.

Or an Obama golf game with Tiger.


(sources and facts provided)

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott stated this week that two of Grand Teton’s usual 20 Jenny Lake District climbing rangers will not come back this summer. “We know that there will be delays in responding to search and rescue,” she said, “as well as medical emergencies and [for] law enforcement.” Rather than looking inward to cut expenses, become efficient and manage effectively, the park will cut safety and welfare services to the visitor, even though it is those visitors who pay the taxes to maintain the park, pay the entrance and use fees that support the park and own the park. The Superintendent's management is a reflection of her complete disregard for her employers and is an attempt to blackmail.

Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott should be held personally accountable in the event a visitor's welfare is severely compromised by her decision to betray the American public.

Doesn't sound as if you feel the politicians who've made the budget cuts have any responsibility?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that funding at the Tetons isn't much different from what was described in another recent story on the Traveler about the Blue Ridge Parkway, which has experienced a steady decline in staffing levels over the past decade. "We’ve lost more than 25% of our total staff over the last ten years or so—and the sequester comes on top of that," according to that Superintendent.

Perhaps you have access to details that the situation is different at Grand Teton. Any of these budget decisions are a no-win situation for park managers and the entire staff - and for the visitors who may be impacted.

Jim - it sure would be informative to see the actual operating budget over the last ten years. It would certainly give more credibility to the cries of dispair. The overall budget of the NPS wouldn't suggest that 25% declines would be necessary.

EC - You're exactly right. I'm trying to find some specific details, but it's slow going, even with the "miracle of the Internet" :-) Hope to have some information by tomorrow afternoon.

Private sector businesses would have been grateful to only face 5% revenue declines over the last three years and have made far deeper cuts without betraying their customers.

Grand Teton staffing has more than doubled in recent years. The recent CATO Institute study concluded that a federal employee is compensated over twice as much as an employee in the private sector doing the same work and that the compensation gap is growing. To understand the real cost each added federal employee one must look beyond the posted wage and understand the liabilities: a seemingly limitless medical care plan, heavily subsidized child daycare, retirement benefit funding, additional subsidized retirement benefits such as long-term care, subsidized vision and dental care, up to 26 work days of paid vacation time each year, up to 13 workdays of sick leave, 10 paid federal holidays (work days to the rest of us), and subsidized housing.

Grand Teton National Park management is a reflection of the betrayal of the American public in Washington DC.

Grand Teton National Park management is a reflection of the betrayal of the American public in Washington DC.

Tim - I think that statement is a little, if not a lot, too strong. I've seen several studies of public vs private compensation and the delta is much smaller than 2x in those. I do think in general government jobs are at a premium, but that probably is more likely found in areas outside the NPS.

On the other hand, I do sense a concerted effort to demonize sequestration and an attempt to make the cuts in the most publicly painful rather than budget efficient manner and many park superintendents are willfully or by force, playing the game. I say "sense", because the "facts" just aren't there. Until the parks (and other govt entities) make public their full P& Ls. it is hard to give any of their cries much credence. Hopefully Jim will make some progress in that regard.


You were building a case until you started to use obviously charged and weighted terms like "a seemingly limitless medical care plan, heavily subsidized child daycare..." and such. If your case holds water on it's own merits you don't need to shade your terms so baldly.

By the way - those paid federal holidays? Most of the rest of us get them too.

In 2012 Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott stated that Grand Teton National Park had a 193 million dollar maintenance backlog yet in the same press conference boasts about spending over 80 million dollars for new infrastructure with more projects call me old fashioned but if you can't maintain what you have should you build more?

I remember as a teenager my father coming home from work completely distressed about a politically eager new superintendent spending hundreds of thousands of dollars repainting all GTNP vehicles the new shade of green (rather that waiting for the two to three year turnover) as to impress several soon to be visiting Washington appears things haven 'd change other than the numbers are now millions in waste.

The national park service has lost it's no longer understands it's purpose, it's responsibility.

One reason the National Park Service has pushed towards filling more and more staffing positions with seasonal employees is to avoid paying out for health care, child care, and retirement benefits. Seasonals do get sick time and annual leave but don't accrue as much as full time staff per week.

Mr. Mayo--

The CATO Institute is hardly an unbiased source for such information. I agree with ec. I think your statement is way too strong.

As to Grand Teton management betraying the public, most superintendents I know are in despair about their annual operating program. There simply is not enough money to do what they always have been able to do and what the public expects in an area of the National Park System. A 5% cut at this time in the fiscal year is more like a 9 or 10% cut. As to private businesses not betraying their customers, many of them have simply closed their doors and gone out of business, an option not available to a park superintendent.


agree with ec.

Did I just see a pig fly, or has hell gotten alot colder ;)

You make a great point...private sector businesses live or die based on their ability to manage their budgets and provide quality of service or product...the national park service and the government as a whole is rewarded with continued funding no matter how poorly they perform.

And the rangers, seasonal and permanent, office personnel, the maintenance workers, volunteers and all the others who work their tails off at the ground level take it in the shorts no matter how WELL they perform. I'll bet, too, that given the dedication most of these people have to their parks, jobs, one another and the traveling public, they will bust their butts even more trying to compensate for sequestration's cuts.

That's probably true in other Federal agencies as well. Remember, in all these agencies there are actually two levels. The political appointees at the very top and the workers who do the work. (Which does not necessarily mean that all the appointees are drones, though.) Then there are the Congresscritters who, if they have enough money available, will be re-elected no matter what insanity they may impose upon us.

But it's much easier -- and probably more fun sometimes -- to be critical than it is to look for and praise the good that happens all around us.

Yes, ec, pigs do fly sometimea, and I did appreciate your comment above. As to TC Mayo's last point, it doesn't really make any difference how well a park provides quality visitor services, protects resources or maintains productive relationships with park interest groups. They get sequestered along with everything else. Doing well in the private sector, which usually means more business, is a powerful incentive. In the current political climate, the only incentive for a park and its staff to do well is their pride in making a contribution to our nation's environmental heallth and to taking care of the places and things that are important to our history. As Lee points out above, thousands of NPS people have that sense, including, by the way, Mary Gibson Scott (I worked with her), and they are really bummed when they do not have the resources to provide what visitors have come to expect. It's really too bad that your anti-government bias does not allow you to see this.


Individual parks are simply pawns in this game. On the big board, the situation is that government is too big, spends too much on many of the wrong things. The tax-payers cannot support all the government we currently have in perpetuity and it's gonna change one way or the other.

Meanwhile, individual parks can manage their budget to minimize the impacts of budget cuts on visitors, you know, the group that pays for all of this. It appears that either the administration, the department, the agency or individual parks have decided that they will take another tack and show the taxpayers that these cuts are unwelcome.

Young, hardworking, ambitious park employees would do well to recognize that government is going to be smaller in the near term and determine whether their future lies in continued agency work or a private enterprise endeavor of some sort. Older, more entrenched bureaucrats may elect to stay with the ship regardless of consequences.

Just out of curiosity, MikeG, where would you make cuts in park budgets to minimize impacts on visitors? That's not a facetious question, as I've asked superintendents if they were cutting certain programs specificially to impact the visitors for PR sake and they insist they're not. So if you have some inside knowledge of how that can be accomplished, it'd be good to know.

I've asked superintendents if they were cutting certain programs specificially to impact the visitors for PR sake and they insist they're not.

Would you really expect them to answer that they were?

In all honesty Kurt, the answer as to where to make the cuts is hard to answer without full line item operating budgets to review. Why aren't these public? It does seem, however that the "cuts" to services are disproportionate to the actual decline in funding and some superintendents have bucked the trend indicating that cuts will be minimal (RMNP).

Of course I wouldn't expect them to admit to that, EC, but for all those who are condemning the Park Service for doing just that...a little evidence would be good, and be good fodder for a story. As you have noted so many times over the months, casting aspersions without supporting evidence shouldn't go without questioning.

How about we shut down every program, study, interpretive walk/talk, capital investment et al that include the words "sustainable" or "climate change". We could probably save 10s if not 100s of millions of dollars without any dicernable impact on the visitor experience.

[added]. As to evidence of hyped claims re sequstration, a quick google search will turn up dozens of examples. Not neceassarily NPS related, but there is no reason to believe they aren't under the same pressures to claim the sky is falling. Once again true transparency with publicly disclosed line item budgets would be quite revealing. I wonder why we dont get those? Actually, no I don't.

No I don't have any inside knowledge but I do know that the Congressional appropriation is not written for individual parks but for the NPS as a whole.

Here's where I'd start: The NPS is currently 401 units with the new designations last week by Executive Order. I would prioritize parks by their site significance and reduce operations, transfer to state or local governments or close parks that are deemed less important for public visitation. I would use savings to continue operations for the sites Americans visit.

While I have my own opinions on what units may be 'less significant' I'll use the comments from a group that is absolutely crazy about the NPS, the National Parks Travelers Club. For those who may not be aware of this club, these people are the rabid 'stampers' that can be found at any NPS unit stamping their Passports. The club has well over 1,000 active members and the goal of many is to visit every unit in the system.

Last week they had a forum question on whether any NPS units should be considered for 'demotion' to some other status. Club members responded with suggestions including NRAs, what the suggestor called the 'booze and boating' crowd back to state governments, Hot Springs NP. A recurring question in the forum and one I've had myself, Why in heck is this place a National Park?

Their list included some 25 sites mentioned by name that people thought warranted something other than inclusion in the NPS system. They included 'delisting' sites like Tuzigoot and Walnut Canyon NM's, the LBJ Memorial Grove, Aztec and Grant-Khors.

They suggested combining administrations for several areas suggesting the southwestern group including Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Aztec, Gila Cliff Dwelling and for Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks. Other opportunities exist. The Black Hills group. The Northern Arizona Group. The Washington State group. Combining admin functions could be made to show savings although I know agencies hate it with a passion. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rockefeller parkway could be another.

Presidential sites were considered 'haphazard'. Herbert Hoover, Andrew Johnson, Taft, Garfield, T. Roosevelt and others. Surely there is a better way to manage these sites through admin efficiencies, transfer, closure or privatization.

Personally, I'm a huge Abraham Lincoln fan. When I last visited the Lincoln sites, I wondered specifically about the Lincoln Birthplace and Boy hood home sites. Other than the physical location, there is nothing on either site that represents Mr. Lincoln specifically. Do we really need parks with large, well staffed visitor centers there?

I'm not an objector to the NPS system, in fact we plan all of our vacation and other travel to include sites. The system is currently too large to be sustained and efficiencies will have to be made. It's true that some of the minor sites are wonderful. Sites like Pipespring NM, Alibates NM, Cowpens NB have great stories to tell. Can we continue to tell them all in an era of decling budgets or can we change management strategies with resulting efficiencies?

Recently we visited Mt Vernon. Every American should get a chance to visit there. A truly wonderful site. It is managed by a private ladies group with no federal dollars involved. Same for Monticello. These sites create jobs and support local businesses too, they just don't happen to be government jobs.

Recent additions to the system have been largely political and in my opinion, don't warrant inclusion. Cesar Chavez, most if not all of last weeks sites. I know they came from Executive Action and not NPS direction. I'd consider them bastard stepchildren I guess. They will further dilute the limited amount of money available for the system.

A couple of personal candidates: Congaree NP. Wasn't NM status enough? Homestead NM of America? Really?

We haven't even mentioned the various Regional office staffs. I'm certain a few bucks could be saved in each of those with little discomfort.


Well done.

Mike, years ago former U.S. Rep Jim Hansen of Utah suggested removing Great Basin NP from the system, saying one visit was enough for anyone. That generated quite a bit of backlash. Point being, most units of the National Park System have very loyal followings, and trying to remove them wouldn't be easy or popular. And that's beside the natural, cultural, or historical significance.

While I don't necessarily disagree with some of your points, laying them out there and getting politicians to go along with them is something else if recent headlines are any evidence. Pinnacles National Park? All the stories about the millions and millions of dollars of economic development tied to units of the park system?

Under your proposed exercise, I fear that units without large and well-organized local communities would be cast aside first, regardless of their value. Yellowstone is benefiting now from community support to help gets its roads plowed. I asked the superintendent of Isle Royale the other day whether her "gateway" communities would step up with funds to offset her budget cuts, and she said they simply aren't as organized or have the wherewithal. Should Isle Royale be cast off?

I found Cape Lookout National Seashore to be an outstanding park, one that protects the truly wild nature of a seashore setting. But it lacks the political support of neighboring Cape Hatteras or Cape Cod. Should it be jettisoned?

Regarding another point you raised, some parks already have shared administrations. Sequoia and Kings Canyon, for one, and Grand Teton and John D. Rockfeller Parkway for another. Could you add Yellowstone to those and make it a trio? Maybe....but whoever was presiding superintendent would need a lot of support staff and a nice travel budget (try to get from Mammoth Hot Springs to Moose, Wyoming, in winter) to juggle all the issues/politics that surround those parks. Would any savings be realized?

Would a moratorium on new park units be the answer or help? That's a difficult question, as the recent tiff over whether there was support for First State National Monument or Rio Grande del Norte National Monument demonstrated. Congressmen alleged there wasn't public input on those, and the public pushed back. So how do you decide which site is appropros and should be added, and which we simply can't afford?

Could there be better accounting in the Park Service? Very possibly, as a recent report we cited noted that federal agencies have turned a blind eye to recommendations from their own Inspector generals that could save upwards of $67 billion. (No word on whether Interior's IG produced a dollar figure for the NPS).

Going forward, I think the sequestration just might point to areas where money can be saved. I'm not convinced, however, that "prioritizing" which units are deserving to be in the National Park System is a good approach, or that units could be transferred to states, many of which are struggling with their own state park systems.

Interesting suggestions, Mike. In each of the "delistings" you have proposed, there are nearby local communities whose economic well-being depends on the tourism that is generated by being close to a place that has "national" attached to it. And once you begin listing proposals for delisting or deauthorizing, you run into the problem of what seems supefulous to you or to the "stampers" might be horribly important to others. One other minor problem is that most states could not afford to take over these areas and manage them. In fact, the reverse is the most common event--a state or municipality no longer able to afford the management of an area works with its congressional delegation to authorize the feds to asssume the management and, of course, the costs for operation and maintenance.

Park superintendents are faced with a really difficult choice in relation to sequestration. They have little flexibility as the cuts were to be across the board. So, they can't decide that, for instance, the administration or interpretive division will take the vasst majority of the cuts. They have to cut the protection, maintenance and resources management divisions also. Or that can't say that we aren't going to buy anymore supplies for the rest of the fiscal year. That's not across the board.

Your other suggestions are being explored. Some areas are already being managed as "cluusters" with a single superintendent. Many administrative fuctions have been centralized to avoid duplication of effort. A decade or so ago, the NPS consolidated its ten regional offices into seven.

It's always interesting to me to reflect on how additions to the National Park System occur. It's normally because a group of citizens get together and decide that a particular place is worthy of protection in perpetuity. Each generation of Americans, speaking through its elected officials, gets to decide which places it wishes to add. In my opinion, it's a matter of generational equity and respect that this generation takes care of those sites added by previous generations. If we as a nation decide that the System is complete now and that no more sites should be added, all we need to do is to convice the Congress and the President that that is the case. Of course, that assumes that no important hisorical events will occur, that no individuals will leave an indelible mark on our society and culture or that no congressional delegation will decide that its "Congaree" deserves national recognition.


I understand the politics are difficult. No not just difficult, maybe even impossible.

I see the Postal Service losing billions annually. I also see that they have made a serious effort to reduce staff, identify efficiencies and make proposals that just might allow them to survive for a while. I also see Congress working against them with many of their proposals. I know the opinion of the USPS held by the public and so do you.

What I don't see is any effort by the NPS (or other agencies) to recognize that things are changing and they're going to have to make some changes. I don't see any effort in Interior or Agriculture to identify waste and deal with it in lieu of reducing services. I see all of these people building bullwarks to defend their current positions on the chance this is a temporary storm. It isn't.

The NPS had better be leaders in the eyes of the public or they risk losing the special place in the heart of the taxpayer that they currently hold.

Thanks to Kurt, Rick Smith and Mike G for the three comments immediately above. Add add value to the discussion.


I'm afraid that the absolutism of "I don't see any effort on the part of..." weakens your argument. I may be a bit closer to the rubber meets the road, in that I'm married to a park employee, and many of my friends and neighbors are parkies. The efforts are every day conversation points. You may quibble with the efforts on the part of this or that manager or employee, but they are definitely there.

As a retired nurse, what I see in the 'prioritizing' that is being discussed above is the principle of triage. Deciding who will live and who will die. It is always easier when you are dealing with strangers. Of course, as mentioned above, a decision by someone who doesn't know or agree with or recognise the value of a park may not be the best decision.

Mike G and Kurt, both great points. It is always hard to make cuts. And priorities would differ depending on who you ask (politician, john Q public, Park supt., or park personel). I find it good and bad for the areas around Yellowstone to help with snow removal. Will this mean the park will expect this in the future? The Businesses in the Yellowstone area said it means about $2 million in business, but what profit did the two weeks cost them? The park helps their business by proximity and it is great to see them donate for the good of the park. Should our parks be beholding to donations to continue, or should we mainly rely on taxes to fund them? I always thought there ought to be a spot on our tax form next to the "do you want to give a dollar to presidential campaign fund" and say "would you like to donate to the NPS for upkeep and maintenance."

Rick, Your comments are appreciated. I was never a 'parkie'. I don't know 'parkies' either. I am just a visitor who likes the parks and helps pay the bills. When I said "I don't see any effort" I meant that as an unassociated citizen who reads a lot, keeps up on the news and looks for discussions regarding the things I'm interested in, like parks. I think I'm probably a more "typical" citizen than you are in relation to the NPS. My comments were meant to reference the average Joe who visits Yellowstone but thinks about his tax bill and is worried about the debt his government continues to pile up. I think the NPS and other agencies should be more public about their thoughts, concerns and planning efforts. You know, the transparency we were all promised in 2008.

In my career I dealt regularly with 'triage' and I am very familiar with it. You're right, it is often a live or die process. I am not qualified to assign triage to the NPS but the management at the highest level of the NPS is. I expect them to do it and deal with the costs, financial, personnel related and political. I think it would help them immeasurable if the process were able to be viewed by the interested public.

Rick Smith. Thank you for your comments. I want to see the system of parks in America grow but I want it to do so through the normal process and within the limits of our budget. The recent additions through the Antiquities Act are abominations in my view. They are excessively political, add little to the system and dilute the resources available to the other units in the system. Lets go back to the introduction of bills to Congress, ensuing debate and designation for units that survive the process.

I acknowledge that we will have to mend our political system so that it operates again. That may take a while but as an optimist I have to conclude that it will be worth the effort.

I like your use of "triage" Which to me means; who needs the most help first. I am sure our gov't is riddled with projects that have already earmarked funds that could be delayed for a latter date when funds are better. Probably the NPS could also have some of these. But the some parks are riddled with lots of road and maintenance projects that keep getting pushed back. It would be nice if the one in charge of the NPS could triage instead of a blanket cut.

Mike, for what it's worth, and you probably know this, the current administration isn't the only one to turn to the Antiquities Act to create monuments that might not merit such designation. And Congress has forced through legislation to create dubious parks -- First Ladies National Historic Site? -- more than a few times.

As for introduction of bills, the current system rewards those with close ties to the chairman/woman of the committees. In the case of Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, backers of that monument claim to have written Rep Bishop, who chairs the subcommittee on national parks and public lands, requesting him to hold a hearing, but he declined....and then lamented that the president's use of the Antiquities Act circumvented public participation.

Rep. Doc Hastings, who is lobbying for a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would stretch across three states, criticized legislation to create a Castle Nugent National Historic Site in the U.S. Virgin Islands, stating that "many Americans will never be able to afford to visit there." Never mind that the site would be in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and quite a few Americans live there.

They have little flexibility as the cuts were to be across the board.

Rick, could you document that? I understand that the cuts are across all departments (Obama turned down the suggestion he be given flexibility), but I was not aware that within a department (or in this case a park) that the cuts had to be equal across all programs. If that is truly the case it has to be one of the stupidest mandates ever derived.

As to others comments regarding local support for opening Yellowstone, why shouldn't that be the model? It is that local community that is benefiting from the economic benefits, why shouldn't they be expected to contribute?


This is what I know, a quote from the Director to all employees: As of March 1, sequestration has imposed an across-the-board five percent cut to our Fiscal Year 13 budget that we must now take in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. I want you to know that the impacts of these cuts are real and will be felt by our visitors, our partners, our parks and programs, and each and every employee. We must now get ready to implement the sequestration plans that each park and program manager developed to respond to the cut. Implementation of the operational decisions laid out in your plan should begin immediately.


In response to a comment from ec yesterday expressing interest in seeing the actual operating budget for the NPS over the last ten years, I said I'd see what I could locate.

ec had previously posted a basic chart for some past years, but more details are needed to make sense of the raw numbers.

I doubt that anyone is holding his or her breath, but I've found that tracking down that information - not to mention trying to make any meaningful analysis of what little I do have- is simply a black hole for time and energy. I found the "NPS green books" for several years, but as best I can tell, those are requested figures, not the amounts actually approved.


Maybe I'm reading this wrong but if you go to the 2013 Green Book on page ONPS 112 it shows the requested base budgets for the parks in 2013 then gives the actual figures for 2011 and 2012. Then for some strange reason it gives 2010 in terms of full time equivalent employees.

Actually, Jim, I would like to to see the line by line budget for some of the individual parks we are talking about - i.e Teton. I want to see how (if) staffing was cut 25% and where the difference was spent.

I appreciate your efforts to track some of this info down, but suspect there are reasons it is not easily obtained.

For Rick - it would be nice to know exactly what "across the board" means. I don't think it means what you have assumed.

not what you are looking for but this report breaks down Seqouia and Kings FY 2002 budget down into broad categories on page 27.


This is the kind of think we need. Why can't we find something more recent than a decade ago? (open question - not one pointed at you)

First, thanks to everyone posting today. Good sensible discussion without the usual trying to trip someone up or parsing each word of another's comments and then trying to twist and twirl them. Today's posts are posts as they should be. Disagreement in some cases, but civil.

Now how can we get Congress to try a little of the same? One thing I do think is missing in almost all discussions anywhere these days, though, is any mention of the role Congress has played for so many years in creating the mess we now face. I believe I'm correct (in fact I know I am . . . ) in saying that there has been so much political meddling by Congress for so long that many -- if not all -- NPS superintendents are hamstrung by a myriad of laws, regulations, policies, agreements, appeasements and other things dropped from the sky by Congressional fiat that they may literally have no alternatives to choose from. (I'd be very interested in hearing what Rick Smith has to say about this. We can all respect his experience and opinions.)

So much park management is dictated by such things as environmental laws, safety regulations, water rights, highway funding and laws regulating highways, personnel laws and policies, and literally thousands upon thousands of other often conflicting, binding, and sometimes very necessary -- or completely useless -- constraints that have simply grown like Topsy down through years of too many Congresscritters who had too much time on their hands, who worship ridgid party ideologies, or who had too many special interests to please and contributors to keep happy that they have managed to tie our entire government into one huge Gordian knot.

Instead of attacking and maligning superintendents, why not look to what is most surely the real cause of it all. Congress. Is the most critical crisis only the debt, or does it go far beyond that? Perhaps the debt is only one symptom of a much more serious disease.

The big question, however, is what in the dickens can anyone do about it now?

There are almost as many pigs in the sky these days as drones. Lee, I agree with you 100%. Congress should give the NPS a mission and a budget and then get out of the way.

as environmental laws, safety regulations, water rights, highway funding and laws regulating highways, personnel laws and policies, and literally thousands upon thousands of other often conflicting, binding, and sometimes very necessary -- or completely useless -- constraints

The exact same things that have hampered private enterprise, cost jobs, growth, domestic production and much, much more. In otherwords, too much government interference.


I believe an appropriate term for what you are describing is 'unfunded mandates'.

No, Rick, many of these things don't need any funding. They are just there. But then there are those unfunded mandates.

Perhaps there simply are no good descriptions or names for it all.

I think A.A. Milne and Rabbit had it right when they said: “I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit.
"No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way.”

I can't think of a better description of the Congressional process.

The inaction and partisanship of Congress is a big part of the fix we're in, of course. But there is plenty of blame outside of Congress.

Admiral Mullin, our Chief of Staff said in 2012 that he thought that our debt was the largest threat to our national security. I believe him. I also believe that it constrains all we do as a nation.

Our debt limits the ability for our economy to grow it's way out of the alley we're in. It limits what citizens can expect in their working lives and retirement for themselves and their families. It limits what the NPS can do with existing and future parks and operations.

If we dealt with our debt, many of our other problems would solve themselves.

In our system of government we are led by our President. It's been a lot of years since we've had one that provided the leadership for an issue that threatened us as our debt now does. Mr. Obama alone is not to blame for the fix we're in. Republican and Democrat presidents have ignored and contributed to the problem.

Until we have a president who unites the country to deal with the waste we all see, the programs that we all know don't work, with the legislative impediments to reasonable commerce and inititive we will continue down this road.

Government by a single party is not good for the nation. We've seen the results of that in recent years during two periods under two Presidents of different parties. It's essential that the business of the nation get a long and public airing in Congress. Like they say, it's how the sausage is made...

It's even more important that our President set the agenda and the example for the nation and for Congress. What we are missing is leadership at the highest level.

And that is what the talking points of the right say, regardless of the fact that Boehner and Ryan have recently both reluctantly admitted that there is no current debt crisis. The apparancy of one is what the right has attempted to paint Obama with, despite the fact that federal spending has risen at a lower rate under Obama than any President since Eisenhower. The biggest financial challenge Obama has had has been to admit to the debt that Bush ran up for his wars and try to start dealing with it. Bush never did.

When one wing of Congress states baldly that their only priority is to be obstructionist and to kick the President out of office, they attempt that for four years, they fail, and now into the second four years of that President they continue to do the same - it is impossible to blame the President unless one is a partisan of that obstructionist party. It might sound reasonable to say this stuff happens under both parties, but it just hasn't proven to be true.

Like Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE said, there are too many riding in the cart and not enough pulling.

Regarding comments made about lack of flexibility in taking the cuts:

Excerpted from the OMB memo (M-13-06) issued March 1, 2013 implementing the sequester.

“…Agencies shall apply the same percentage reduction to all programs, projects, and activities within a budget account, as required by section 256(k)(2) of BBEDCA, 2 U.S.C. 906(k)(2). …”

The OMB memo can be found here:

In the NPS, park operations are funded by the account “Operation of the National Park System.” Within this account, each individual park (or park complex - where there is shared administration), is classified as an individual “program” so each park must be hit by sequester and each project and activity inside that park must also be impacted.

For example, part of the NPS structure looks like this:



Activity: each individual park

Projects inside Program ‘Resource Stewardship”:

Natural Resource Stewardship (spread to each park – activity must be cut – in each park)

Cultural Resources Stewardship (spread to each park – activity must be cut – in each park)


Projects inside Program ‘Visitor Services”:

Interpretation and Education (spread to each park- activity must be cut – in each park)

Commercial Services (spread to each park – activity must be cut – in each park)

There is no ability to shift funds between accounts. For example, NPS cannot shift funding from another account, for example, the Construction (and Major Maintenance) account to the Operations account.

The OMB report on sequestration can be found at this link (the NPS table is found on page 32 of 70):

One way to think of it is as if your household expenses were in separate accounts. You have one account for groceries, one for clothing & diapers, and one for major household improvements. You may be really hungry and want to buy more food, or perhaps you need more diapers, but those accounts have been sequestered (cut). Meanwhile, although you have money in your also sequestered improvements account for a new kitchen, you cannot transfer any of that funding to buy food or diapers. So you start construction on your new kitchen while you are hungry and reusing soiled diapers.

Yes it is stupid, hence the political miscalculation that it was too stupid to actually be implemented.

"Reusing soiled diapers." Gotta love that one.

It reminds me of the old truism that "Politicians, like diapers, need to be changed frequently. And for the same reasons."

Term limits and really tough election finance reform anyone?

Thanks for that view mtn. Has to be one of the most assinine rulings made in quite sime time.

Has anyone found the actual text of Section 256? It is actually part of the Graham-Hollings bill passed in 1985. Unfortunately, does not have full text of legislation dating back that far.